A NecROMANTIC Disregard

A review of Toni Pi’s “The Marotte” from OnSpec # 95, vol 25, no 4
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo from OnSpec  # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca

Cover photo from OnSpec # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca


The world looks very different after you are dead, particularly if you wake up in the body of a Marotte, a fool’s staff. From Lord Conjuror to the toy of the court’s fool, Vod is able to gain a new experience and way of looking at the world and his court when death causes his change of office.

Set up as part of a political intrigue, Vod is better suited to carry out an investigation of the court when he is linked to the largely ignored fool. There is a benefit in being treated as a joke in that no one expects you to actually be challenge the expectations of the court.

As a fool’s marotte, Vod learns more about the court, about himself, and about notions of selfless, self-sacrificing love. He is able to discover that the court fool, Cherchenko, far from being  foolish, is complex, intelligent, and completely in love with him. Constrained by social position and the homophobic culture in which he is embedded, Cherchenko was forced to keep his love for Vod secret, burying his affections until Vod has become a spirit, disembodied and distanced from his rank and any cultural expectations around sexuality. He is able to be more free and open with a spirit than he had been with the man.  Cherchebko’s love for Vod literally called him back from the grave, summoning him forth into Vod’s wand, stolen and disguised as the fool’s marotte.

Toni Pi explores the role of the fool as a social outsider, like most social Others, both invisible (ignored and disregarded) and hypervisible, constantly noticed for his Otherness. Cherchenko uses his status as someone who is disregarded to engage in political intrigue, knowing that he won’t be taken seriously or viewed as a political player, but that invisibility also meant that Vod, while alive, ignored the fool, disregarding him as all of the others did. It is only in Vod’s new position as ghost, without his body and status and everything that lets him disregard those on the fringes that he is able to really see into the fringes, to see the relationships that exist outside of his previous sphere of attention.

To read more about OnSpec, visit their website at

To discover more about the works of Toni Pi, visit his website at http://www.writertopia.com/profiles/TonyPi

Quote – Collective Story to Guide People Through The Dark

“In a world as pessimistic as this has become, that collective story is all that’s left to guide people through the encroaching dark. It serves to create a sense of options, the possibility of permanence out of nothing.”

-Charles de Lint – “The Conjure Man” In The Very Best of Charles de Lint.

Between Coping and Addiction

A review of Brandon Crilly’s “Remembrance” from OnSpec # 95, vol 25, no 4

Cover photo from OnSpec  # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca

Cover photo from OnSpec # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca

By Derek Newman-Stille

Set in the future, Brandon Crilly’s “Remembrance” is a venture into the results of war, not on nations, but on one family. Since returning from war, Anna’s father has used an assemblage of assistive technology including a bionic prosthetic leg, but more importantly, a new technology that is purported to help soldiers cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This technology allows a soldier to visit friends lost in war by simulating them in a virtual world.

Anna fears that the assistive tech her father is using is causing him to lose touch with reality and become addicted to his technology. She feels him slipping away from her as he engages more and more with his virtual world. She ponders whether the technology is helping or hindering his metal health.

It is only when Anna is able to think about her own experience of loss, the trauma that she suffered when her mother died, that she is able to understand her father. This common experience of loss lets her enter into a shared space of longing and constant coping.

Crilly provides no easy answers or simple resolutions, but rather shows that trauma and loss are always negotiated, ongoing processes for families to work out.

To read more about OnSpec, visit their website at

To find out more about the work of Brandon Crilly, visit his website at brandoncrilly@wordpress.com

Performing “Reality”, Living Fiction

A review of Kevin Harkness’ “Double Vision” from OnSpec # 95, vol 25, no 4.
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo from OnSpec  # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca

Cover photo from OnSpec # 95, courtesy of http://www.onspec.ca

Truth is painful, and seeing the truth is a huge responsibility. Kevin Harkness’ “Double Vision” peels back the layers of fiction in our society, exposing the social masks and lies we create for ourselves and others – an important part of this process we call “civilisation”.

When Chartrand was in a mining explosion, pieces of metal and rock were thrust into his brain, severing it into two halves. This doubling of cognition allowed him to simultaneously see and hear two different visions and sets of words – one, the words that were said and the attitude performed by a person, and the other their true face and the words that they conceal. His doubled experience allowed him (or forced him) to see the difference between the performed world and the inner, hidden world, creating a painful cognitive dissonance and a general alienation from an all-to-often fictional society.

Harkness takes the reader into this realm of duality, letting us see how much of our world is fictional, performed, and inauthentic. In this space of question, Harkness exposes not just individual secrets, but the way that communities ignore or hide problems to make things appear better on the surface, erasing difference, removing members of a community that differ from the values that are entrenched as the “norm”, and concealing issues of violence and abuse because they are “private” rather than public affairs.

Through Chartrand’s dual vision and dual hearing, the reader is pulled into a place of social question, asking what has been concealed, what hidden, what erased to make communities appear to be homogenous.

To read more about OnSpec, visit their website at http://www.onspec.ca/

To find out more about the work of Kevin Harkness, visit his website at http://kevinharkness.ca/

OnAir on Trent Radio for the Summer : Mondays at 8:00 PM

Speculating Canada is going On Air on Trent Radio for the summer. I will be on air every Monday at 8:00 (EST) throughout the summer starting next monday (April 28th). Trent Radio second Icon

The summer radio show will be a mixture of discussions of Canadian speculative fiction (horror, fantasy, science fiction, and the various speculative genres in between) and interviews with Canadian speculative authors, allowing them to share their perspectives, thoughts, and ideas.

Next Monday, Speculating Canada  on Trent Radio will begin with a discussion of Canadian zombie fiction, highlighting the diversity of the genre and focussing on texts that do something a little bit differently with the zombie.

If you are in broadcast range, Trent Radio can be heard at 92.7 FM, and if you are outside of our broadcast range, you can live stream Trent Radio at http://www.trentu.ca/org/trentradio/ . daniels_trlogo


The Religion of Blood Medicine.

A review of Rich Larson’s “Maria and the Pilgrim” in Apex Magazine Feb 4, 2014 (available online at http://www.apex-magazine.com/maria-and-the-pilgrim/ )
By Derek Newman-Stille

Rich Larson’s “Maria and the Pilgrim” explores a future in which contagion has spread and a small group of people have applied religious meanings to the spread of disease. Seeing themselves as preserved by Jesucristo against a contagion spread by the devil, this group of survivors have sought a pilgrim.

As part of their religious dances, this religious group gives blood, allowing machines to pull forth sanguine liquid, offering it to pilgrims in the same way as they believe Jesucristo gave it to his followers. The pilgrim, however, uses the blood to test children for plague resurgence and health, determining the healthy development of the community.

This is a community shaped by eugenics, made to conform to a breeding programme due to the threat of Contagion. Health is policed, controlled, and regulated, permitting little variation from a set programme. Any children born without a membrane in this world are supposed to be exposed, left for dead, but this community wants the pilgrim to heal a child, restoring her membrane to help her survive. In exchange, they promise not to slip open the pilgrim’s membrane to give him the Contagion.

This is a future where even aggression is seen as considered genetic and an accusation of genetic aggression is enough to have a village sterilized and culled.

Religion and health combine in a system of control and regulation, shaped by a fear of exposure to disease. Life is regimented and controlled, and the body is a subject of policing. The policing of the body from a religious and medical perspective are intertwined in Larson’s narrative, exploring the multiplicity of bodily control that our social systems can impose. Fear becomes a powerful motivator for bodily regulation and control, allowing a population to submit without revolutionary thought.

You can explore “Maria and the Pilgrim” yourself at http://www.apex-magazine.com/maria-and-the-pilgrim/

Some of Rich Larson’s publications can be found at Amazon.com/author/richlarson.


An interview with Nick Rayner about The Tandem Region Times

An interview with Nick Rayner, Editor of the fictional newspaper The Tandem Region Times
By Derek Newman-Stille

Nick Rayner is in the process of creating a fictional, online horror-themed newspaper about an invented region called The Tandem Region. He is currently inviting participants in this project, which seeks to combine themes from horror and journalism, mixing reality with a fictional world. The Tandem Region Times is set in a fictional Canadian small town, giving writers the opportunity to create a terrifying world within our own. In our interview, Rayner outlines his current project and the motivations and characteristics that shaped it.

You can find out more about The Tandem Region Times project at http://www.tandemregiontimes.com/ . They are currently seeking submissions, so check out their requirements.

Spec Can: To start our interview, could you tell readers a little bit about yourself and your background?

Nick Rayner: I’m a 26 year old who currently works in the advertising industry, mainly graphic design and content marketing. I currently live in Kingston, Ontario, but while living in Toronto I dabbled in self-publishing. I went to school for marketing, and before that I was in school for culinary arts. I’m at a point in my life where I describe myself as a “storyteller,” which is a cool way to say “I haven’t put in the gruelling hours to be a published Canadian author yet, but I’m cocky enough to do a project like Tandem Region Times.”

Spec Can: Could you tell readers a little bit about your current project, The Tandem Region Times?

Nick Rayner: The Tandem Region Times is an online, horror-themed newspaper about a fictional Ontario municipality called Tandem Region.It’s composed of 4 towns called Laughing’s End, Hatchet Hill, Spinning Head, and Museum City. The area also shares a dimensional schism with another reality which houses 4 similar towns, except they are populated by impossible creatures and are governed by completely alien physics and rules. The newspaper publishes stories from both realities, both in the same format, but with The Other Place being the highly experimental arm of this.

I’ve always been fascinated with internet horror, especially the stuff that isn’t really attributed to any author. Same with the images you find floating around forums and image boards. It occurred to me that the main reason these stories stuck with me was because of the lack of detail and poetry and a lot of the conventions most reputable magazines love. It’s like urban legends; they play loose with the characters and it’s more about the core narrative and making it seem like it could happen to you. There’s a mimetic quality to them as they’re passed around and altered slightly.

Spec Can: What inspired your interest in creating a fictional, horror-based newspaper?

Nick Rayner:   I was working as a reporter around the time when my friend and co-editor Johnnie Alward said “we should do a fake horror newspaper.” That’s our Act 1. We’d worked on scripts and projects in the past and this was our way to take the reins and try something new.

The “news report” format to telling a story really appealed to me since it put the “concept” centre stage.  I left the newspaper I was working at but the idea sounded like there was no ceiling; we could expand this thing as big as we want, and it’s completely dependent on the stories we receive. As we have more writers and different voices taking on these creepy events, we might see recurring characters and plotlines emerge, and we might see the geography of this world come into sharp relief. That’s what kept me going this whole time: the possibility, as an editor, to guide this world being created and see if patterns emerge.

Spec Can: I am struck by the potential of this paper to introduce readers to the exciting notion that horror and reality can mix and mingle a bit. What elements of the real world do you hope authors will bring into their horror editorials?

Nick Rayner: This is a very good question, and it’s one of the main questions that we’ve had to tackle with the paper. I said before there are no ceilings, so now I’m going to admit we do have SOME limitations. For example, there’s currently a lot of news about the elections in Quebec: are we going to have that sort of “ripped from the headlines” stuff in the paper? Maybe people want to write about the NSA, does that have a place here? Tesla Motors? And the answer is “sort of.” It’s a weird little small-town paper, so we’re not going to get into Palestinian politics, but this is first and foremost a place for storytellers, so if you want to tackle the NSA, maybe the story is about government surveillance, and maybe there’s a way to frame that within a city hall.

And even though I say this now, talk to me in a few months and see if I’ve completely gone back on my word, because someone might send in a story that breaks all these rules and it’s amazing and we run it anyway.

One of the first stories we will run is one I wrote where there’s a fire at a dairy mill and 20 people were dead, but it becomes clear that the milk was leaking from a vat and drawing people into it, and once they were swallowed by it they burst into flames, meaning that this was using people as fuel somehow to create destruction. So if we’re running stories like that, I don’t want to be the guy who starts slamming doors on peoples’ concepts.

Spec Can: Your website mentions that you are hoping to attract both horror authors who want to try exploring journalistic writing and newspaper reporters who may want to try introducing a bit of fiction into their work. What are you hoping will result from this collaboration and experimentation with writing styles?

Nick Rayner: From my perspective, this thing lives and dies on whether or not we can get enough variety of voices, especially in the horror genre. In comedy, you can riff on things forever. The Onion will never run out of content. In something like this – and this is another big discussion myself and Johnnie had – the fear is that we will get repetitive. We want to keep the stories fresh, but how long until we’re doing Dracula 2000?

In a lot of writing circles, there’s a bit of elitism that you run into, and I think it’s because it’s such a grind to get recognition in the writing game, especially in Canada. I’ve always said that everyone is a storyteller, though. And everyone knows when they’re hearing a bad story.

If I say to you “I went to the store,” your immediate response is “…and?” Then I say “I got some milk.” Then you say “And?” “And I went home.” “So?” Everyone knows how to tell a story, and everyone knows when they’re hearing a bad or incomplete story. We are human beings and we love narratives. We can comfortably say that at this point it’s in our DNA.

If we can figure out a way to tap into that, and if we can figure out a way to engage the experiences of as many individuals as we can, that’s how you inject life into this stuff. That’s the grand experiment with this thing. I think a hard-news reporter telling a horror story and a creative writer doing a hard-news report can both blow my mind in different ways.

I love the format for this reason. A blank canvas spooks a lot of people, and it can be intimidating. I’ve always liked writing scripts because there are formatting limitations and certain rules you need to follow.

To give a sports metaphor that makes no sense and will make everyone hate me, imagine you have a ball and you’re bouncing it in a room. It’s a big open room and all you have is a floor. You need to give me a wall, or a net, or a pole, and suddenly you have a game. That’s why writing exercises are the most important thing you can do to become good. You need to add some challenge – some limitation – and that gets people’s minds working. So if it’s “tell me a story, make it scary, keep it 800 words or less and give away as much of the story as you can in the first paragraph,” it feels a bit like a game.

Spec Can: I would imagine that, much like a newspaper, you are hoping for a lot of visual material. What sort of visual art contributions are you hoping for?

Nick Rayner: This is completely dependent on the stuff we receive, but I can tell you what the dream is.

The dream is that we have artists, photographers, and graphic designers sending in whatever they would qualify as “scary.” The mantra for the project overall is “it can be scary, it can be creepy, it can be bizarre, it can even be humorous, but it needs to be interesting.” We might end up with a pile of photographs of creepy buildings, forests, people, and we find ways to fit them in, or we write stories about them. A previous writing project I did called “It’s Made Of Hells” (madeofhells.tumblr.com) was all about this. I looked at the huge stockpile of creepy images I had and write stories that explained them. That’s fun, that’s something a lot of people can do. I can’t say for sure that all these people will start sending us things right away, but that’s the dream.

Spec Can: What can the visual dimension add to this project?

Nick Rayner: If the goal is to tell stories, then the visual dimension offers up all sorts of opportunities. A written piece can stand on its own, a photograph can stand on its own, or maybe one inspires the other. We’re open to anything that triggers inspiration. If someone sent us in a weird podcast, we would find a way to work that in. If someone has a collection of photos of weird food they’ve cooked and they want to run a cooking column about cooking things they found in a swamp that only appears every other month, that’s amazing, tell me more.

Spec Can: In what way do you hope that The Tandem Region Times will expand and change the nature of Canadian horror fiction?

Nick Rayner: It’s about creating opportunities. I think a lot of Canadian writers end up going the independent route simply because there’s not a lot of agents, there’s not a lot of publishers, there’s not the same market that you see in the US or the UK. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to make the Tandem Region a Canadian area, and not just a nondescript place.

It’s a buyer’s market out there for writers, and that’s why magazines/publishers can be so picky. That’s just what happens when there is an abundance of a resource. If the “problem” is there’s too many writers and not enough publishers, why don’t we find a new-media solution for this? Let’s just get as far away from the old business model as we can. Let’s figure out a way to give as many people a platform as possible, have enough editorial oversight to keep it consistent and ensure quality control, and build this thing where people know they can find great stories and writers can develop their skills. And get paid, once we work out the advertising situation.

Spec Can: I have to say that I really enjoy the notion of inserting a bit of fictional horror into a newspaper format since newspapers often contain so much real horror. I like the idea of playing with the nature of “real”. What inspired you to create a work of fiction that plays with notions of reality?

Nick Rayner: It’s the reality that makes things truly terrifying, and it’s the fuzziness of it that sticks with people. That’s the difference between a demonic possession movie where a bunch of random wacky stuff happens, and a movie like Black Christmas. You can tell when some humanity has been put into the bones of the thing, cause at some point someone thought “what truly scares me?”

Anyone can watch a show where someone gets shot in the face and blood goes everywhere. But if you stumble across a YouTube video of someone doing it, there’s some switch that gets flicked in your brain. It doesn’t look exactly like it should; the human body does unexpected things when it dies. Like I mentioned before, that’s why urban legends work. “It could happen to you.” One of the tips we give on the site is “don’t tell us a story about a recently divorced woman who is scared for her children because it’s raining blood. Just tell us it was raining blood and put us in that world.”

It’s interesting, though: you ask that question and it really does make a case for how the sensationalism of news is essentially telling horror stories, isn’t it? “It could happen to you.” Prejudice is built on this, fear is instilled with this sort of thinking, maybe that’s the social commentary that will emerge over time. That’s above my paygrade. Let the muckity mucks on Parliament Hill sort that out, I’ve got 2 days till retirement.

Spec Can: Is there anything further you would like to add to our interview?

Nick Rayner: I’d just like to thank you for asking me these questions and I hope all the tangents I went on serviced the answer to the questions asked.


I want to thank Nick Rayner for these new insights about this interesting Online collection. There is something very exciting about mixing news (a format for the horrors of reality) with horror fiction. I look forward to seeing what this project develops into and I hope that others are inspired to contribute materials.

Remember, you can check out The Tandem Region Times project at http://www.tandemregiontimes.com/ .

“The writer who flinches at exposure, who dares not show the depths of his fears and loves or show what truly matters above all else to him as a real person, will fail to capture any reader’s head or heart.”

-Julia Czerneda – Introduction to Douglas Smith’s Chimerascope

Quote – Writers Need to Show Real Person