Tuesday, November 19, 2013

An Evening of Celebration at Chapters

All are welcome!
Hosted by Dr. Nancy Earle

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dublin Calling!

So, Finton Moon continues his run around the world. Next stop: Dublin, Ireland - the city where he, or really his story that's told in my novel of the same name, has been longlisted for the International Impac Dublin Literary Award, a prize that nominates authors all over the world for the chance at winning 100,000 pounds. If bigger is better, then this competition is easily the best for sheer scope and depth.

I'm tempted to play the "Aw, shucks" card again, but it's probably time I just said, "Thanks" and left it at that. If you've followed this blog (or me) for a while now, you know the story. This little novel didn't gain traction in national media when it first came out, but now it's gotten unanimously positive - often glowing, stellar - reviews, been nominated for a national award the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic) and now nominated for what might well be the most prestigious literary prize in the world. I know that's an arguable point, but, for now, I'm going with it.

Some of my favourite authors are on that list - John Irving, Toni Morrison, Colm Toibin, Ian McEwan, Joyce Carol Oates, and many, many more. It's 152 novels from around the world - only a sampling of all those published in 2012 - and, as I said to one friend earlier today, I'd much rather be on that list with all those great authors than to not be on that list with them.

So, I'm not worried about my chances of winning, nor of being shortlisted. I don't even think about that. I just think, I'm pretty damn lucky. Again.

Thanks to the Dublin city council's library service, the judges and libraries all over - who have been extremely kind to me locally, across Canada and around the world. I've always had a great fondness for libraries, and they have always been good to me, long before I was writing and ever since I became a reader at the great, grand age of two years old (or so I'm told - I don't recall). I was often told when I was a lad that reading would never get me anywhere. Well, maybe not. But my book sure has gone some interesting places.

More to come on this award as time goes on. But for now, for those of you who don't follow me on FB, or who do but are busy doing other important things today, I just wanted to ring the bell and let you know that Finton Moon once again finds itself in prestigious company, which, I admit is quite humbling and makes me wanna go "Aw, shucks." Can't help it.

Thanks for the support, those of you have shown it. And you have been legion.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Spotlight on Sunburst: The Sun, The Moon and Me

First time seeing Finton Moon

I've had a grand time getting to know my fellow short-listed authors for the Sunburst Awards. I'm not sure exactly when the winner will be announced, but I expect it to be quite soon. Good luck to Derryl, Emily, Martine and Rio - all very fine writers who deserve awards, nominations and plenty of
readers. Oh, and if you haven't read them yet, please scroll down the page to read the features I've posted on each of these authors. My hope all along has been that by getting to know them a little and being introduced to the kind of work they do, that at least some of my own readers and friends will give these other authors a try.

"Speculative fiction" is a category in which I never realized my writing belonged. In fact, I generally am not fond of labels or limitations of any sort, but sometimes it's necessary in order to define oneself by what one is, rather than by what one is not.

That said, as I've seen for myself in this year's nominees, the category of "literature of the fantastic" can encompass all kinds of writing - and quite often, prose of the very highest calibre.

The fact that Finton Moon is getting some critical attention on a national scale is a lovely feeling. When it first came out, it got much attention here at home because my previous book, Moonlight Sketches, had won the NL Book Award, only weeks earlier. But, for whatever reason (most likely timing - the book came out in late June, which is too late for summer "best of" lists and even too late for the fall lists, which didn't include it because, technically it was a summer book) Finton Moon was ignored by certain national reviewers, thus reducing its chances for national attention. In a Giller-centric world, in fact, even though the Sunburst Awards is a truly national award with some international ramifications - and the news of the short-list announcement made waves of various sizes on websites, blogs and in media all over the world - most book reviewers have paid little attention to the list, even though the panel of judges is a stellar one that rivals any such jury this country can produce. I would also argue that the list of short-listed books is more diverse than your average national literary award, and the writing is as good as any.

I've personally seen many more sales, some very nice mentions in local media (thanks especially to The Telegram, The Charter and Transcontinental media across the province), and, of course, as I said, a great shout of publicity internationally that will hopefully pave the way for other things - and already has, since this award is partly responsible for me being able to begin a regional tour in support of Finton Moon this coming January (2014).

The most satisfying part of it all for me, besides getting to know these four other authors, has been that Finton Moon was nominated at all. Think on it: with no national exposure, published by a small press on the far end of the country (thank you, Creative Publishers!), no big blurbs from well-known authors on the front cover, and no real sense of who this "Gerard Collins" guy from the east coast of Canada even was, these five jurors read somewhere in the neighborhood of 200-plus books and plucked this rather large and somewhat strange novel from obscurity to give it not only the proverbial time of day, but to shine a spotlight on it and essentially say to the literary world in Canada: "Hey, lookit! Here's one that you guys missed."

Local media and book bloggers, I should point out, have been very kind, and reviews have been incredible. In fact there's much more to come from Finton Moon, as will be revealed in time, but to the Sunburst jury (Rebecca Bradley, Tony Burgess, Shari Lapena, Barbara Roden and Leon Rooke, whose work was phenomenally difficult, I've no doubt, considering how many books and the large number of truly good books there were to read), I sincerely want to thank you - no matter who wins. It takes courage, as a literary competition judge, to select from a veritable slush pile of published books a novel that hardly anyone else seems to know about and to like it well enough to promote it as one of your favourites, knowing how much the nomination would mean to any one of those other authors, many of whom are much better known and more decorated than I am. I'm not exactly sure how, or even why Finton Moon was deserving of the honour more than many other novels, but I'll take it and run with it, and try to prove you right in the years to come.

So, here's what they said about my book:

Growing up in the 1970s in the outport town of Darwin, Newfoundland—a place connected to, but remote from, the rest of the province—Finton Moon realizes from an early age that he is different. He seems to have the ability to heal the wounds of himself, and others; an ability which sets him even further apart from his community, and the people around him, even as he desperately wants to belong.

The author grounds Finton Moon in warts-and-all reality, his lyrical storytelling creating a vivid and realistic world full of all-too-human characters, where poverty and violence exist alongside friendship and love, and where Finton must learn to find his way. It is a magical and compelling novel, like a long-form version of a Maritime ballad.

I'd do an interview with myself, but I think I've just said everything I wanted to say. And, face it, if you read my blog regularly, you already know who I am and that I'm not only genuinely thrilled and humbled about this short-listing but that I sincerely wish all the best to each of the other four authors - not only with the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic - but in their lives and careers, henceforth. It's not an easy road, or an easy life, and we've somehow each found our way to this point. Some of you have received other distinctions; for others, this is new, higher air. Either way, I expect each of you will be breathing this air again and again, and for many years to come.

This is my last word on the Sunburst Awards until the winner is announced. Thanks for reading these entries every week or so, and I hope you've found some new favourites to read.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Spotlight on Sunburst: Martine Desjardins

The Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic is a juried award to recognize stellar writing in two categories: adult and young adult. The awards are presented annually to Canadian writers with a speculative fiction novel or book-length collection of speculative fiction published any time during the previous calendar year. Past winners include Guy Gavriel Kay. Cory Doctorow, Geoff Ryman, Nalo Hopkinson and Margaret Sweatman.
I asked each of my fellow short-listed authors for the 2013 Sunburst Award if they would be kind enough to write a piece for my blog. Here’s this week’s piece, an interview with Martine Desjardins.

(Please note that Martine, regrettably, had to decline to be interviewed right now because of private, personal matters that are taking all her attention. However, I'm reposting an interview Molly Mikolowski  conducted with her some time ago, which I found on the Talonbooks website.)

Martine Desjardins was born in the Town of Mount Royal, Quebec, in 1957. The second child of six, she started writing short stories when she was seventeen.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in Russian and Italian studies at the University of Montreal, she went on to complete a master’s degree in comparative literature, exploring humour in Dostoevsky’s The Devils.

She worked as an assistant editor-in-chief at ELLE Québec magazine for four years before leaving to devote herself to writing. Presently she works as a freelance rewriter, translator and journalist for L’actualité, an award-winning French-language current affairs magazine in Canada.

Her first novel, Le cercle de Clara, was published by Leméac in 1997, and was nominated for both the Prix littéraires du Québec and the Grand prix des lectrices de ELLE Québec in 1998. Desjardins currently lives in the Town of Mount Royal with her husband. In her free time, she paints miniature models of ruins overgrown with vegetation.

Martine's author page at Talon Books lists the following awards and nominations:

  • Winner of the Prix Jacques Brossard

  • Finalist for the 2010 Governor General’s Literary Award (French Fiction)

  • Finalist for the Prix des libraires du Québec

  • Finalist for the Prix des cinq continents de la Francophonie

  • Finalist for the Prix France–Québec

Contact Martine Desjardins' publisher: info@talonbooks.com

The Sunburst Award jury says: "Rumour and speculation have it that there is hidden, somewhere in the archives of the Archdiocese of Montreal, a book so dangerous that the Church denies its existence. A copy has been found amongst papers of the author’s family, however, and its interlocking stories—originally told under the seal of confession—are here presented. Gorgeous and multilayered, Maleficium is a complex, devious, and vivid novel, in which all the senses, and most of the deadly sins, are invoked to exquisite and diabolical effect. Situated where Maria Monk meets the Arabian Nights, it weaves together elements at a thousand knots per square inch, its darkness of frame and intricacy of structure combining to subvert the pattern by the final chapter."

Interview with Martine Desjardins:

(Reposted from Talon Books website)

Recently, Molly Mikolowski conducted an interview with Martine Desjardins about her novel Maleficium, translated by Fred A. Reed and David Homel.

Q: In Latin, “maleficium” refers to “an evil deed, injury, sorcery,” and you’ve said that that the title of the book was inspired by the Maleus Maleficarum, which was the Inquisition’s infamous treatise on witches. It is a strange title, but like many exotic words in the book, it hints at a number of potential meanings . . . why did you choose it?

A: My stylistic choice to use ornate language, as well as rare and precious words, was meant to disorient the readers, as if they were hearing a foreign language, so that they might feel as if they were in a foreign country. This language is also meant to convey an incantation, to make the readers feel caught in the spinning of the tales, which act here as evil spells—thus the title Maleficium.

Q: How do you balance the lyricism of your writing with the precision of your historical research to create what so many reviewers have referred to as a “feast for the senses?”

A: I am first and foremost a writer of prose. I do not write verse, I never read poetry. In fact I’ve never understood why poets feel the need to constantly start new lines. This means that, unfortunately, I can be quite prosaic when I write. I am totally incapable of creating a metaphor. Clever analogical substitutions rarely pop through my head. I never see a bird when I’m looking at a handkerchief—or vice versa, for that matter.

As I can’t write poetical descriptions of reality, I try to compensate by twisting reality itself, in order to make it more lyrical. Thus, I pack my novels with unconventional and slightly skewered characters, ones that have as many physical as moral flaws, and a whole lot of idiosyncrasies. A young bride who strives to keep her virginity intact, a lady who talks to trees, a nurse who does embroidery on her own skin, a soldier who forages through the trenches of World War I in the hope of finding the Knights Templars’ treasure, a spinster who will eat only salty things at the risk of becoming a salt statue like Lot’s wife.

I set these characters in strange environments: an isolated house full of drying mushrooms, an igloo where light is refracted into a thousand prisms, a sunken crypt with a floor covered with enigmatical carvings, a fantastical funerary monument carved out of salt in an abandoned mine. And I equip them with unusual objects: glass made from boiled cadavers, an antique tapestry where the weaved birds form a rebus, salt cellars in the shape of famous ships.

In Maleficium, the male characters are all tempted by rare and curious objects: a strong-flavored variety of saffron, an insect unknown to science, a vertigo-inducing kind of incense, golden tortoiseshell, the purest of soaps, a Persian carpet made of human hair.

Q: In what ways does Maleficium differ from your earlier novels?

A: My three first novels, however unusual they might be, always remained in the grey zone between the real and the unreal—a zone that could be best described as the “highly unlikely, but still possible” or, to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, the “however improbable.”

Maleficium is a shift for me, because I have left that realm to venture a little more toward the unreal. Thus the main female character has physical attributes that make her appear foreign, almost monstrous and alien. She has a harelip, but is also described as having a long tail, vulvar stamens, perfumed earwax, thorns growing from her scalp; she is seen carrying a larva in her navel, shedding tortoiseshell tears, extracting iridescent oil from her skin.

This was prompted by my intent to explore the demonization of women through malicious gossip, now that they can no longer be accused of witchcraft. It is also a comment on the way we often demonize foreigners in an increasingly globalized world.

While I was writing this book, my niece became quite famous as a singer, here in Quebec and in France. Malicious gossip about her started appearing on the Internet, and it made me very much aware of the cyber bullying phenomenon. This experience informed the last chapter of the book, which is why Maleficium is dedicated in part to my niece.

Q: To research this novel, you studied many nineteenth-century texts, but were you able to visit any of the locations you describe in Maleficium?

A: Although I have traveled quite easily in the past, I have been, for the past ten years, struck by paralyzing panic attacks every time I leave Montreal. Being incapable to go anywhere is a source of great frustration for me, since I dream of visiting exotic lands like India, Zanzibar, Yemen or Oman. Writing Maleficium was a way for me to travel to these lands, albeit in my mind, to visit interesting sites and to discover new cultures.

Q: Do you envision an ideal reader?

A: My ideal reader is not squirmish and hasn’t lost his sense of wonderment at all the strangeness this world has to offer.

For more information on the Sunburst Awards: http://www.sunburstaward.org/2013-sunburst-shortlists


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Spotlight on Sunburst: Emily Schultz

The Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic is a juried award to recognize stellar writing in two categories: adult and young adult. The awards are presented annually to Canadian writers with a speculative fiction novel or book-length collection of speculative fiction published any time during the previous calendar year. Past winners include Guy Gavriel Kay. Cory Doctorow, Geoff Ryman, Nalo Hopkinson and Margaret Sweatman.
I asked each of my fellow short-listed authors for the 2013 Sunburst Award if they would be kind enough to write a piece for my blog. Here’s this week’s piece, an interview with Emily Schultz.

Sunburst nominee Emily Schultz
Emily Schultz  is the co-founder of the literary journal Joyland and the host of the podcast Truth & Fiction. Her novel, Heaven Is Small, released from House of Anansi Press in May 2009 in Canada, and in the U.S. in October 2010. Heaven Is Small was named a finalist for the 2010 Trillium Book Award alongside books by Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro. Schultz’s newest novel, The Blondes, was released from Doubleday Canada in August 2012 and became a national bestseller. It is forthcoming in the U.S. for spring 2014 from St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne.

Her writing has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Elle, Today’s Parent, Eye Weekly, the Walrus, the Black Warrior Review, Prism, Geist, Event, Descant, New Quarterly, CellStories, the Fanzine, At Length, and several anthologies. She has worked as an editor and as a creative writing instructor.

Emily lives in Brooklyn with her husband Brian Joseph Davis. Together, they write scripts.

Click here to reach Emily Schultz's agent: Shaun Bradley at the Transatlantic Literary Agency

Contact: emilyannschultz@gmail.com

Follow Emily Schultz on Twitter: @manualofstyle

The Sunburst Award jury says: "Alone in New York, Hazel Hayes is desperately trying to get her life together. Her thesis isn’t going well, she’s running low on cash, and she’s just discovered she’s pregnant after an affair with her married tutor. To complicate matters even further, random acts of violence and savagery are breaking out everywhere, acts perpetrated exclusively by light-haired women, and no one can explain why—or knows how to stop it. At once a gripping page-turner and a wryly satirical takedown of the omnipresent apocalypse-meme, The Blondes is a perceptive look at a world where certain women are to be feared and controlled—with brutality, if necessary—and where beauty is not only skin deep, but can kill you."

Interview with Emily Schultz:

1. How do most people react when you tell them you're a writer? How long did it take for you to lay claim to that title of "writer”? Was there a defining moment when you knew you actually were a writer?

ES: I always wanted to write, so I think I’ve never had any qualms about thinking of myself as a writer. I also began publishing quite young—I was 28 when my first book, a collection of stories, came out, and by the age of 35 I’d published a book of poetry and two novels. This is my third novel, and definitely my favourite. In that regard, I’d say it’s a defining moment: I feel like I’m just beginning to become the kind of writer I want to be.

2. Most people think of New York City as a busy place - how does that busyness figure into your writing, or does it? What are your favourite spots for writing?


ES: The Blondes is set in both New York and rural Ontario. It’s always head-spinning for me to go from my little hideaway hometown of 10,000 to this metropolis of over 8 million. In this book, the plague hits when the character, Hazel, is in Manhattan, so there is definitely a sense of chaos and busyness as she tries to flee the city and make it back to what she views as the safety of Canada.

As to favourite spots for writing, I seldom write outside my apartment. I carry a notebook and get a lot of ideas while on the subway or at the Laundromat, but I want to be in private to do something as intense as sketching out scenes. While I was writing The Blondes, I did rent a cabin in the Mohave Desert not far from Joshua Tree. That was a wonderful place to write because it was so quiet. With the exception of the sound of the military doing drills on a base several miles away, there were no distractions. I had to drive 35 miles if I wanted to have an internet connection. I did about half of the first draft there in a short period—it was a bit surprising to me how much I was able to write out there.


3. What's been the highlight of your writing career so far?
Probably being onstage last year at the Vancouver Writers Festival with Margaret Atwood.

4. What does this particular nomination mean to you, the Sunburst Awards being for "excellence in Canadian literature of the fantastic"?
It’s very exciting! An amazing panel of judges and “Literature of the fantastic” is such a great phrase. I feel very fortunate to be placed in such company.

5. The Blondes is a fantasy of sorts - do you mind when people read metaphors into your work, or is that metaphorical quality quite intentional on your part? Do you think metaphor first, or story and/or character first? This is essentially a genesis question: where does the story begin, for you? And how does it evolve?
Everything comes at once for me, in what seems at the time a huge mess. For the first half I’m always wracked with self-doubt, asking myself if it’s a satire, a comedy, a horror story, a suspense, a drama? It’s only after I’m a good way into it that I realize it isn’t messy at all, and all of those elements are falling into place. It’s funny that Tony Burgess was one of the judges for this award, because Pontypool was definitely an inspiration.

6. I assume you visit schools or university classes now and then to discuss your work. What have you learned from such moments?
I used to teach short story writing at George Brown College, but I was more of an editor or mentor in that environment. I haven’t actually done a lot of class visits as an author. One visit I did do was to some eighth graders at the grammar school I attended growing up. Even though my work is not meant for young people they asked me some of the most interesting questions I’ve ever gotten and really made me think. It was a good reminder to me to never to pre-judge an audience.

7. What's the next writing project for you?
My husband and I have been working on scripts lately, one for a TV pilot, one for a feature film. It’s teaching me a lot about plot and form, and how I approach projects. I can definitely feel it informing my fiction writing.

For more information on the Sunburst Awards: http://www.sunburstaward.org/2013-sunburst-shortlists




Thursday, August 29, 2013

Spotlight on Sunburst: Rio Youers

The Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic is a juried award to recognize stellar writing in two categories: adult and young adult. The awards are presented annually to Canadian writers with a speculative fiction novel or book-length collection of speculative fiction published any time during the previous calendar year. Past winners include Guy Gavriel Kay and Cory Doctorow.

I asked each of my fellow short-listed authors for the 2013 Sunburst Award if they would write a piece for my blog. Here’s this week’s feature, an interview with Rio Youers.

RioYouers is the author of two novellas, Mama Fish (Shroud Publishing) and Old Man Scratch (PS Publishing)—the latter earning him a British Fantasy Award nomination in 2010. His novelette, This is the Summer of Love, was the title story of PS Publishing’s first new-look Postscripts anthology, a publication in which Rio has appeared three times. His short fiction has also been published by IDW Publishing, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy, and Shroud Magazine.

Rio’s debut novel, End Times, was rereleased by PS Publishing in the autumn of 2010. His first short story collection, Dark Dreams, Pale Horses, will follow in 2011, with a short novel, Westlake Soul (ChiZine Publications), slated for release in the spring of 2012.

Rio was born in Amersham, England, but has been living in Ontario, Canada since 2001.

The Sunburst Jury says:

"In the midst of life, Westlake Soul is as good as dead. A surfing accident has left him trapped in a vegetative state inside his now useless body, but as compensation he has been given extraordinary mental powers, as well as a bitter enemy: Dr. Quietus, an embodiment of death itself. Westlake copes with his tragedy and the grief of his loved ones through soaring acts of imagination—but are they really all in his head? Youers’ masterful storytelling leaves us wondering just what Westlake is capable of doing, once he sets his formidable brain to work on the problem. Westlake Soul is poignant, funny, and extraordinarily moving as we share Westlake's thoughts, hopes, and dreams, and watch as he - and those around him - struggle to cope with the changed reality of their lives."

Interview with Rio Youers

1. I read on your blog that Westlake Soul has been optioned for movie by some very capable people – congrats. In what ways do you think WS would make a good movie, or why do you think they chose it for possible development?

First and foremost, it’s an incredibly visual story. Westlake is a superhero, of sorts, who can astral project—from his vegetative state—anywhere he wants. So we have the ocean and the moon and everything in between. We also have raging battles in the psyche where Westlake continually fights death, and these are given an almost ironic, comic book emphasis. I had a lot of fun writing these visual scenes, and I think they could translate to the big screen to spectacular effect.

Moreover, there’s a very human aspect to Westlake Soul: his determination to recover and live a normal life, and how his condition affects the people he loves—the heartbreaking decisions they have to make. This is the core of the story, obviously. It’s tragic and relatable, in book or on film, and I think it becomes something quite unique when juxtaposed with the fantasy.

Essentially, Hollywood loves movies about superheroes and underdogs. With Westlake Soul, you get both.

2. What was the genesis of Westlake Soul for you? When did you know you had a solid idea for a novel, and how did the story take shape as time went on?

My ideas come out of nowhere, and they always take me by surprise. I may hear a snatch of conversation, or see something either random or utterly normal … and then my mind is running and before long I have a partial idea. And that’s all I have when I sit down to write the story. I never plot or plan, and never know how the book is going to end. I figure I’ll find out when I get there. So yeah, I just go for it—seat of the pants—and let the story fill in the blanks. It’s the way I have always worked, and it seems to work for me.

Westlake Soul was different, though. The idea came to me in that nebulous, half-state between being asleep and awake, where you’re still dreaming but are aware of what’s going on around you. That’s where I first met Westlake, and he brought most of the story with him. I leapt out of bed and wrote the idea down (I still have that sheet of paper), knowing I had something that would work. It wouldn’t be easy, but it was solid. It was a few years before I started writing the novel ... and it never deviated from that original concept. There were blanks, of course, but I filled them in along the way, just like I always do.

3. What does it mean to you to be a writer?

That’s a tough question to answer. Maybe even impossible, because I’ve always been a writer—even before I was a writer, if that makes any sense. I suppose I should be grateful that I have an outlet for all of the weird and sometimes disturbing detritus in my mind. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d need a damn good job to pay for all the therapy.

4. What’s your favourite part of being a writer?

When you get an idea so outlandish, and difficult, that you don’t think it can be done. But you challenge yourself and go for it ... and you do it; you knock it out of the park. That’s so rewarding.

5. What’s your least favourite part of being a writer?

Having to ask publishers for the money they owe you. It happens less now that I’m working with better editors and bigger publishers, but I still have to drop an awkward e-mail from time to time. It’s never fun.

There are other disappointments along the way, but they’re all part of the job. I was recently asked to pitch for a major comic book series. I gave it everything I had and came up with a concept that I believed worked on every level ... and it seemed for a while that the gig was mine. Then the publisher/studio decided to go with another writer. I was crestfallen—still am. I’m usually good at handling rejection, but that one burned.

6. What does the Sunburst nomination mean for you, at this point in your career?

It’s an incredible accolade and I’m immensely proud to be nominated. Standing alongside so many worthy authors makes it all the more rewarding … not to mention the fact that it’s a juried award; you are nominated purely on merit, and not because you have a lot of friends/recommendations within your society or association. It makes all the hard work worth it.

Establishing a name for yourself in this competitive industry is difficult. Juried awards like the Sunburst go a long way toward helping you achieve that.

7. What’s next for Rio Youers? Anything you can tell us about that you’re working on? Oh, and are you one of those authors who doesn’t like telling anyone about his new work-in-progress, or one of those who doesn’t mind talking about it, to some extent?

Yeah ... I really don’t like talking about my current project. Partly out of superstition, but mostly because—being a seat-of-the-pants writer—the story has a tendency to change lanes and take wild turns. So I prefer not to divulge too much until I fully know what it’s about, and where it’s going ... which is usually at the end.

I can tell you that I’m pretty deep into a new novel, and that—so far—I’m delighted with the way it’s shaping up. That could all change in a hurry, of course. But for now, it’s looking good.

As for what’s next ... I have a lot of short stories in the pipeline, having worked with great editors like Stephen Jones, Christopher Golden, and Jon Oliver. I also have a novella and a collection forthcoming from Cemetery Dance.

8. What does “literary success” mean for you?

Making a living writing impactful, well-received fiction, without compromise.

Find Rio on Twitter: @Rio_Youers

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Spotlight on Sunburst: author Derryl Murphy

The Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic is a juried award to recognize stellar writing in two categories: adult and young adult. The awards are presented annually to Canadian writers with a speculative fiction novel or book-length collection of speculative fiction published any time during the previous calendar year. Past winners include Guy Gavriel Kay. Cory Doctorow, Geoff Ryman, Nalo Hopkinson and Margaret Sweatman.

I asked each of my fellow short-listed authors for the 2013 Sunburst Award if they would be kind enough to write a piece for my blog. Here’s this week’s piece by Derryl Murphy.


Derryl Murphy
Derryl Murphy was born in Nova Scotia, raised in Edmonton, Alberta, and has lived in Logan, Utah and Prince George, BC. He now lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan with his wife and two sons. A self-described “soccer fanatic” Derryl is “a soccer dad, coach, player, fan, and once upon a time even a ref.”

His novel Napier's Bones, which he describes as “a peripatetic math-as-magic urban fantasy/hard science fiction story,” was nominated last year for the Aurora Award for Best Novel. The short story collection Over the Darkened Landscape (Fairwood Press) is Derryl's fourth book and is nominated for a 2013 Sunburst Award.

The Sunburst Award jury says: "In this wonderful collection, Derryl Murphy ranges over the whole territory of speculative fiction, from hard SF to magical realism and back again. He is particularly adept at mining history in stories that twist and tweak reality, turning it into the thought-provoking “what if?” of great speculative fiction. Whether he is writing of a society where government cutbacks have created an interesting way for private citizens to make money, a legendary artist’s battle with an equally legendary creature of myth, a town where growing old is the exception rather than the rule, or a poignant phone call between a husband and wife separated by a distance that can never be crossed, Murphy’s stories mix fantasy and horror, the extraordinary and the everyday, to stunning effect."

Find Derryl on Twitter: @derrylm


To Make a Long Story Short
by Derryl Murphy

          It’s an odd feeling to have a book of short stories on the same Sunburst Award short list as four novels. It’s not like they’re apples and oranges, of course, but there are plenty of people out there - my wife among them - who feel that short fiction generally doesn’t do the trick for them, that it doesn’t tell a complete enough story. (Although let me note as an aside that my wife does read my short fiction, and sometimes she even gets it. “Last Call” made her cry, as it did its original editor and the artist who supplied the illustration for the magazine in which it appeared.)

          Like it or not, though, short fiction is by its very design not set to do the same thing a novel does. The character development is, by necessity, presented in a different fashion, for one thing. It’s no less effective if done right, of course, but there is a shorthand readers and writers of short fiction come to recognize.

          Now, not all short fiction is created equal. The shortest story in Over the Darkened Landscape is fewer than a thousand words, and the longest is over eleven thousand. The snippet that is “Clink Clank” obviously doesn’t give me the room to stretch that the novella of “More Painful Than the Dreams of Other Boys” does. But that’s part of the fun for me. I don’t write much short fiction anymore, but I do still find it enjoyable, and an interesting challenge.

           While I don’t do it with all my short fiction, I do sometimes try to break my stories into little chapters, to give the reader a sense of the novelistic. And, yes, as a cheat so I can move freely between scenes without having to worry about writing that bridge. We all have our crosses to bear.

          But mostly it’s because I like to imagine that these little snippets - or longer snips, to coin a term - have a life beyond what you read. And that is precisely what drives my wife so crazy. It’s not so easy, nor so important, to wrap up the narrative of a short story so that it finishes in one neat and tidy package. Questions often remain, and I for one am fond of those questions.

          Yes, sometimes you can make everything neat and tidy. I won’t give much away, but to refer again to “Last Call,” I think by the end there is no doubt that this is the same happy place to end the story no matter if it’s 2400 or 120,000 words long.

          I also find it’s easier to be relentlessly depressing in shorter bites. In my previous collection, Wasps at the Speed of Sound (11 stories of ecological SF - if you squint just right - that is about to be reprinted by Five Rivers here in Canada), I was accused of being just a little down. To quote from one review: “The effect of such savagely pessimistic stories in one concentrated dose is depressing as all hell, and by half way through a reader might be excused for wondering: if that's Murphy's view of the future, why does he have kids? Why isn't he hanging from a rafter some place?”


          But wait! There’s good news! The stuff I write isn’t always so down and depressing, and there are indeed stories in Over the Darkened Landscape that may even make you feel good about yourself. Not always, of course, as I do have a reputation to keep, but they are there. Some laughs along the way, even.

          Unlike Wasps, this new collection is not thematic in any way. It’s a mixture of science fiction and fantasy and (kinda) horror and what I suppose you could call slipstream, or weird fiction. I’ll readily admit that the state of the world has me feeling somewhat cynical about things, which when one is writing science fiction stories with an eco/enviro bent can make it easy to misplace the rose-coloured glasses.

          But the stories of Over the Darkened Landscape often came from someplace different; the world can’t always be on the verge of ending in my fiction, and while, as has been noted by one of my editors in the past, loss seems to play a large role in my stories, I don’t think that makes me much different than a whole passel of other authors. Loss is a factor in every life, it’s a conflict, internal or external, that can give a story meaning, give it play, give it emotion.

          So can joy or love, of course. But I don’t play as well with those.

        But Derryl! I hear you cry. You’re babbling on and on and telling us practically nothing about the stories in the book.

          Yes, well, sorry about that. I do tend to wander off on tangents. Exploratory conversation can be great fun if you’re willing to go along for the ride, or it can be brain-blisteringly numbing. I can only hope you’re with me, not agin me.

          So here, as a favour to you, are elevator pitches for each and every story, guaranteed to be as spoiler-free as possible (the last four, incidentally, all involve real or possibly apocryphal moments in Canadian history, or with historical personages. With a minor sprinkling of the fantastic of some sort. So there is that to consider. I call them my “Magic Canada” stories).


          Body Solar:

          Rich European

          Goes on a tour out in space

          Problems occur



         Satirical look

          At the culture of our land

          Yes, some things have changed


        Frail Orbits:
        Tired old astronauts

        Landlocked and suffering

       Given a last chance


          Voyage to the Moon:

          Climbing the beanstalk

          A fairytale astronaut

          Giant on the Moon


          Last Call:

          A final call home

          What do you say at the end

          When they’re your last words?


          The Cats of Bethlem:

          A true story of

          HG Wells and Louis Wain

          Antiques Roadshow told me so


          More Painful Than the Dreams of Other Boys:

          A former child cop

          An adult now, feeling lost

          Back to solve a crime


          The Day Michael Visited Happy Lake:

          In rummage sale books

          A boy finds old memories

          Not his, come to life      


          Clink Clank:

          A child hears noises

          Mom and Dad need some money

          Hey kid. Come down here.


          Northwest Passage:

          Based on true events

          When my grandpa was up north

          Ghosts might be made up


          Cold Ground:

          If Louis Riel

          Had some magical powers

          Some things might have changed


          Over the Darkened Landscape:

          A Prime Minister

          In our time but not in his

          Solves crimes with his dog


          Ancients of the Earth:

          Cave men and mammoths

          Amidst the Yukon Gold Rush

          That was some meal

          Spoiler-free and full of mediocre doggerel! How lucky can a person be?

          Truth be told, I think you’ll find the stories in the book more entertaining, more thoughtful, more full of adventure and whimsy and despair and joy than you do my feeble and flailing attempts at haiku. I feel very privileged that the judges thought so, not only so much that they were willing to honour this book alongside four other fine books, but that they even used the pejoratives “wonderful” and “stunning.”

          Which, if it had been a collection of poetry, I think you can guess how that would have turned out.

For more information on The Sunburst Awards: http://www.sunburstaward.org/2013-sunburst-shortlists