Authors in Quarantine – Kate Heartfield

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Kate Heartfield: The priority has been distance learning for my 10-year-old son, and I’ve also carried on with my regular freelance editing and online teaching jobs, in addition to trying to keep up with writing.

Even though I haven’t really had any extra time, I have been starting all kinds of new creative projects, because it helps my mental health. Projects help to remind me that today is different from yesterday and tomorrow will be different again, that change will happen. And I’ve always used work as a coping mechanism, rightly or wrongly! So in addition to everything else, I’ve been painting and assembling a hurdy-gurdy from a kit, baking a lot, and trying to get my garden in decent shape. I’ve signed up for an online course in Old Norse, because I figure, if not now, when? A lot of my projects (such as baking bread and making masks) also serve to help our household cope with the pandemic.

I’ve also been allowing myself the time to do a fair bit of relaxation activity, such as playing Civilization VI (my comfort game!) and watching TV with my partner and son. We just finished Tales from the Loop and are currently finishing up the last season of Clone Wars together.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Kate Heartfield: Our household is pretty fortunate, all things considered. My partner, my son and I are all introvert homebodies at the best of times, so on a day to day basis it doesn’t feel that strange. But the uncertainty about the future, the stress of distance learning and the inability to see people I love is wearing, for sure. I feel like my heart is a rubber band that’s been stretched into the same position for two months and is weakening at the edges.

I’ve been using Zoom and other online platforms to keep in touch as much as I can with my writing community, although I miss all my writer pals terribly and nothing can make up for their physical presence. I’m taking part in two virtual conventions this month, including the Nebula awards weekend at the end of May, and that helps to keep me in touch too.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Kate Heartfield: My creative brain is my coping mechanism, so I’m enjoying dreaming and plotting out my current novel. But when it comes time to sit down and write, I frequently struggle these days with a kind of brain freeze — I can’t execute and get the words down very well. An effect of long-term low-level stress, I think, and I’m sure a lot of us are feeling the same way. Also, I’ve lost a lot of the options I used to have to get into a fresh headspace by going to work at the library or my favourite coffee shop, which sounds trivial but was a bigger part of my working life than I realized.

So it’s slower than I’d like, but I’m getting work done. Soon, my editor will send some edits for my next novel, The Embroidered Book, which is coming out next year. When that happens, that will become my writing priority. In the meantime, I’m working on a novel that isn’t sold yet, so I don’t have a deadline, which is a blessing in some ways as it means there’s less stress, but it also makes it hard to keep at it, because writing a novel on spec is an implicit act of faith in the future and that’s hard right now. I really love the book, so that’s helping. I also wrote a story for The New Decameron Project, which was great, because it gave me a reason to take out an old half-finished concept and finish it up. The result was a story called “In a Hansom Cab at the Liberty Street Ferry Terminal” and it gave me great joy to write.


Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille MA, PhD ABD

Authors in Quarantine – Cait Gordon

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

No haircut? No problem!

Spec Can:What have you been up to during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Cait Gordon: For the first two weeks, I levelled up to 1000% disability advocate mode, encouraging people to flatten that curve. But also being connected with other disability advocates meant my social media timeline soon became demoralizing. There was no attempt from many abled people (even those in authority) to disguise that they thought we were expendable during this crisis, no veil at all, and the eugenics-based mindset drained me. I found myself entering into The Overwhelm™, and had to pull back in order to preserve my own mental health. An interesting tonic for this was April’s Camp NaNoWriMo. I was no way in shape to do it, but I went into Oh, why the heck not? mode. And the WIP I chose to work on was Iris and the Crew Tear Space a New One. This episodic series focuses on a command crew whose senior officers are disabled, Deaf, blind, and/or autistic, but my intention is to craft a world so accommodating and accessible, my characters just are. The focus is on their adventures, instead of an all-consuming narrative about their disabilities and/or conditions. I really needed the salve of living in Iris and the crew’s world while my own world felt like the ugliness towards my community was escalating. Thank goodness for speculative fiction. For me, it’s a true form of self-care at times like these.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Cait Gordon: HAVE YOU MET ME? I was social distancing before it was cool! Seriously, though, as a mobility disabled person who lives in a suburb without decent transit, I’m usually housebound at least five days a week. So, I’m kind of a pro at it. However, my stresses tend to derive from other people not knowing how social distancing works. The streets around me typically empty in the BeforeTime, but now more people are at home, so more people go out. And in my opinion, they don’t always get how keeping one’s distance works. I’ve not gone on many walks because I’d feel myself heading for autistic burnout from others not adhering to the rules. Although, I am so tempted to buy a ridiculously wide hoop skirt to keep people at bay. Fiddle-dee-dee, I say!

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Cait Gordon: There’s always an ongoing hum of stress in my mind, and that makes writing difficult because I don’t have enough brain spoons. But thankfully, my online writing group, The Inkonceivables, restarted during the outbreak, so they are inspiring me to have something to read out loud every two weeks. (By the way, anyone who tells me I must write every day, especially now, will be walloped with The Whacking Pillow. Fair, right?) Since my current WIP is written like episodes instead of chapters, I just have to think in short-fiction goals, which I can handle right now. I love short stories; they’re a delightful challenge all of their own. In fact, I decided to keep up the 2020 Flash Fiction Draw Challenge on caitgordon.com, as another distraction. I thought I’d be the only one writing, but all the other authors who participate in it were grateful I kept it up. So, that was very telling to me. We creatives sometimes have to sit back to soothe our minds, but others need to tinker with words. Both ways are valid. And as I keep telling people, we don’t have to be productive during a pandemic. For now, we survive. Then, we thrive!


Cait Gordon is a disability advocate who wants everyone to pummel that curve! She’s also the author of Life in the ’Cosm and The Stealth Lovers. When Cait’s not writing, she’s editing manuscripts and running The Spoonie Authors Network , a blog whose contributors manage disabilities and/or chronic conditions. She also teamed up with Kohenet Talia C. Johnson to co-edit the Nothing Without Us anthology in an attempt to take over the world. Narf.


Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

Authors in Quarantine – Jay Odjick

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Jay Odjick: Lots of hand washing! Heh! I have mostly been working and working out. Especially now that the weather finally – knock on wood – seems to maybe be getting a bit nicer, my biggest stress relief is lifting outside. I have my weights set up outdoors and it’s nice to break up your day, get some sun and allows me to shut out the world for just a bit, which is important, I think now and then, especially now.

It’s important to stay educated and informed as to what’s going on with the outbreak but I think for us all it can get a bit overwhelming. It’s important to put media, both social and otherwise aside for awhile if and when we need to.

In terms of what I’m working on, I’m writing a graphic novel for Scholastic Canada, a kind of coming of age story about a young First Nations boy, let’s say, much like myself as a child who moves from the U.S to his father’s community and comes to writing and drawing comics. It’s based on my experiences and has been challenging, both reliving stuff from my youth but also a ton of fun. I’m excited to share stories of rez life with people who may have never been to a reserve!

I’ve been doing a video podcast as well at http://twitch.tv/jayodjick – lining up guests for that and trying to acclimate myself to the tech and software involved! Been fun and to date, I’ve had on a biologist with a specialization in ecosystems and a medieval historian to discuss what we can learn from plagues in the past in our current reality as well as how society comes out of these types of things and I thought that was fascinating, especially to learn that might be more uplifting an answer than we’d think. I’ve been learning a lot thru this!

I’ve also been trying to help out as much as I can; I am blessed, in that because I work at home for the majority of my work this affects me less than most people, and I’m still working. If you’d like to learn more about what I’ve been up to in that regard, check me out on Facebook or Twitter! Would love to see you there.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Jay Odjick: Like I said, I think it really doesn’t affect me as bad as it could and I get that I’m fortunate in that way. Apart from cancelled appearances and speaking engagements, I work from home insofar as writing and illustration. Last year I was working both at the University of Ottawa as a teacher and with the Ottawa Citizen as a freelancer; this year I’m focusing more on creative endeavours, mainly the above mentioned graphic novel as it’s a lengthy project.

Having said that, there are things I miss, just like any and everyone else. Friends and especially family. It’s crazy to think that this is something that, for the first time in my life that I can think of is something that is truly affecting the entire world! Just crazy to think about.

I think one of the things that’s been important for me in this time is perspective. As weird and negative as this time is, it’s helped to focus on the temporary nature of this for me and to look at certain situations from around the world as well as our own past. This hasn’t impacted me financially as much as some and my heart goes out to those who are struggling.

But I try to think about conversations I’ve had with older people who have lived thru wars or a friend of mine who lived thru the Bosnian War and told me what that was like.

Or even looking at things closer to home – I have a digital copy of the paperwork filed for the arrest of my grandfather here in Canada when he was arrested for leaving the reservation without papers. It may get hard, but I can go for a walk without being arrested.

When it feels tough for me, how I feel is valid but it helps to remind me of how resilient people can be and how much we can get thru.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Jay Odjick: I have to admit..my writing has been impacted by the outbreak and maybe moreso what’s come from it. Media and politicians are being so divisive and we are kind of inundated with negativity and attempts to anger us or again, divide.

At times it is hard to get myself into the right headspace for writing.

It comes and goes but as one example, sometimes at the moment, humor can be tough to write because we know so many ARE suffering or in need.

If I sat down to just CREATE something in this time, I’m fairly certain it might come out a bit dark. Maybe ultimately uplifting but you know, things don’t always work that way – we have deadlines and I have a book to deliver that has priority over writing or even drawing as a form of expression, but I strongly believe in creative expression as catharsis. I should try drawing more, from the heart and not from the head, when I have time.

If you are having a hard time, know that you aren’t alone. We may be isolated but we are all dealing with similar things. Maybe that’s of little comfort but we will come out of this better, I truly believe. Better and stronger and we can use this to come together.

We just have to get thru the NOW.


Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD, ABD

Authors in Quarantine – Liz Westbrook-Trenholm

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

COVID fashion statement: bleachy duds and shaggy hair.

Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID outbreak?

Liz Westbrook-Trenholm: Domesticity way up, writing way down.

I’ve been washing and bleaching everything inside and from outside our home, baking comfort foods, (state of emergency diet now enacted for the month of May) and sewing (searching for the most bearable face mask), all while listening to audiobooks, all cozy and historical mysteries as I seek respite from COVID news.

Routine has become strict and rarely varied. First it’smorning coffee, when we mutually drown in the firehose of social media, followed by a few hours spent on projectsuntil it’s time for an afternoon walk timed to beat the 3-5 pm jogging and biking rush hour on our preferred nature paths. We come back, dry off (we go in all weathers), readand play board games until wine-time, dinner, chat and music. Our day concludes with TV and bed. Rinse and repeat. Every day.

Excitement is laundry day, a video chat with a friend or relative, or Hayden’s weekly trip to the grocery store, me waiting at home for my hunter/gatherer (he has better lifting power than I do and we don’t run a car) to bring our weekly food, which I dunk in bleach mixture, except for eggs. Trust me, eggs in soggy cardboard containers do not go well. 

​The routine is comforting, at first, giving a sense of control to the uncontrollable situation we all find ourselves inhabiting. How can we react to the endless torrent of sorrow, disaster, fear and conflicting advice pouring from our media? Why, bake cinnamon buns, what else?

Aaaand it doesn’t take long for the comfortable routine to become a prison. Hayden starts taking dyspeptic pictures of himself in his bathrobe and turning them into silly gifs. I’m trying one hair style after another. After gentle discussion, we decide we need to schedule in some spontaneity. We write lots of activities on slips of paper which go into a cookie tin. (Hayden rejects ‘give each other haircuts’) We pull one out every couple of days when we get edgy. Sometimes just a game we haven’tplayed forever. Reading to each other, possibly with dramatizations. Looking at photos from years ago. A take-out Mexican food fiesta. Birthday party, with home-made hats (I knew there was a reason I’d kept a shoebox of orphaned earrings and feathers for decades). Other activities that are MYOB, so there. It’s not so much what we do, but that we burst out of the wire cage of routine we’ve built, and change things up a little. It’s surprisingly refreshing. Sex in the afternoon is awesome. Oops. I said I wouldn’t talk about that.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Liz Westbrook-Trenholm: All of which spills over into how we deal with social distancing. Note the ‘we’. This would not be possible without each other. Always a close couple, a kind of two-person party, we’ve become, if anything, even closer, more careful and tender. Of course, it was disappointing for two inveterate travellers like us to see our plans collapse and our world shrink to only anywhere we can walk to. We can get tetchy, but we cut each other slack when the black dog drops by, or when one or the other wants to be all alone. We don’t take offense. It all makes sense. An old friend once said, “Where is it written you should be happy?” Sometimes it’s necessary to sit under the dark cloud and just breathe until the sun comes out again. It does come out again.

That being said, we work hard at keeping in touch with others via Zoom, Facebook chat, phone, email and text – whatever medium works best for each. We have especially upped our calls with family. I talk often now with my daughter who is distancing alone in London (the UK one). She’s worked out some solutions and has produced some powerful art in her off-work time, but it got pretty dark and desperate before she found her COVID groove.My sister and I vent constantly, bless her for being there.Calling friends and acquaintances and hearing that they’reokay releases swacks of relieved endorphins and hugely shortens the list of people I have to worry about. If they’renot okay, I’m there to hear it out and keep in touch. Sharing their burden paradoxically lessens mine.

​Another side-effect is my tendency to babble uncontrollably at sight of another human. I strike up two-meter distance chit-chat with total strangers or the pharmacy clerk behind her plexi-glass shield. My urge to chat about anything anything at all, at some length, is difficult to contain. I try. Truly I try. Let me tell you ALL about it sometime.

​I’m also thinking about what comes next as treatments and, we hope, vaccines evolve over the coming one or two years. Years. Yeah. As an asthmatic baby boomer smack dab in the middle of one of the at-risk demographics, I’ll need to keep shying away from close contact with anyone who might be a carrier. While we’veall been in it together, it’s been do-able. When I become a minority, it’ll pose new challenges. My friends with disabilities and health issues are nodding their heads with grim grins and saying, ‘Yuh-huh. Tell us about it.” No need. In sharing your stories and concerns, you gave the world a lot of information and demonstrated a lot of coping strategies, long before COVID came along. I expect to be using them shortly! I’ll likely write about it.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Liz Westbrook-Trenholm: The times have affected my writing in two main ways. One is that I have done much less. My writing often takes me deep into dark corners and edgy issues that can leave me drained. I’ve been a little nervous to approach it.

But now, after a hiatus for bleaching and retreat, I find I’m approaching it with a gentle, cozy style. A young woman, a run-away on her last legs, physically and psychologically, falls into a carefully dug hole in the middle of a forest. She looks up from the pre-dug grave at a man silhouetted against the dawn who says, “That’s mine.” And they go from there, into a gentle interaction of restoration and understanding between generations.

Or the old woman, isolating alone in her apartment, who opens her door to the god of the underworld in the form of a lost toddler in a really odious diaper. She draws him into her home and nurtures him, fearless and practical. What deal will they cut when he reaches his full size? 

End of life is a theme in the back of mind for all of us right now and in both of these stories. It’s a topic that turns up in my fiction regularly, but in these, my emerging ‘COVID’ stories, I find the characters less fierce and more wise and accepting than my frequently angry, feisty dames. 

So. How about that COVID thing, eh? Who among us thought we’d be living through history in the making? How can anything be the same again, any more than it was after the plague years, or the potato famine, or the abolition of slavery in the west, or the world wars? So many scabs have been ripped off our social shortcomings. So much strength and ability has emerged, showing us what we, as a society, could be. What will we do with it? Where will we take this experience, both within ourselves and in the way we interact with each other? Now, there’s a good writing topic for any spec fic writer.


Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

Why Star Wars is Important To Me As An Abuse Survivor

By Derek Newman-Stille

I am a child abuse survivor. My biological father beat me throughout my life until my mother, sister, and I were able to escape when I was 15. This may not seem to be related to Star Wars… but it is.

As a child, I read about abuse to try to understand what was happening to me. All of the work that I read suggested that there was a cycle of abuse and that I would inevitably become abusive, just like my biological father.

Star Wars deals with cycles. It is a story about cycles and about breaking cycles and resisting inevitability. This mattered to me as a child, as a youth, and still matters to me. Star Wars offered a glimpse at the potential to break a cycle. It offered a glimpse into possibilities of redemption and resistance. It showed an evil father figure who was able to be redeemed and resist hatred. It showed a son figure who was able to resist becoming what his father was, a son who was able to push back against anger and hatred and become his own person, become something good instead of succumbing to the inevitability of hatred.

Science fiction doesn’t just exist as entertainment and escape. It exists as a way of teaching us lessons through stories. When we think that a future is inevitable, science fiction offers the reminder that the future is a story being told, that it is flexible, and that it is changeable. Science Fiction offers the idea that there are multiple futures out there and that the future can be written, unwritten, and rewritten.

It’s why Sci Fi has been so important to me. It offered a way out. A possibility for a future that wasn’t inevitable, but instead could be changed. This is an important message for someone who is being abused, and an essential reminder for those who are continuing to deal with the repercussions of being abused.


Written by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

Authors in Quarantine – Corey Redekop

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Corey Redekop: After a few hectic weeks of OMIGODWE’REALLGOINGTODIEREALSOON, I’ve managed to settle my mental state down a touch. If you consider that Stage One of self-isolation, Stage Two is the slightly more optimistic MAYBEWEWON’TDIEBUTHOLYGODTHISISTERRIBLE. I’m not at all certain of how many stages there are to this pandemic, but I’m glad to not having yet reached the Stage of MYHAIRCUTISMOREIMPORTANTTHANYOURLIFE.

Beyond that, I’ve got plenty of free time, being “temporarily furloughed” and all. I still work (very) part-time for Goose Lane Editions as their Social Media Maven, so I spend a small part of each day wading through online sites, looking for anything literary and/or marginally hopeful to share. I’ve tried a little baking, to mixed success; my bread is always fantastically heavy, but I’ve managed to produce a passable tea biscuit. I’m reading as much as ever—usually between 6-10 books a month—and I’m also trying to read at least one short story a day to keep myself interested (and to better get through my huge TBR pile).

I finally caved and subscribed to CRAVE, so I’ve binged a few shows, Watchmenand Devs being the highlights. I’m currently watching The Outsider, and I may go on to Penny Dreadful and Westworld afterward.

My usual job keeps me fairly active, so there has been a marked decrease in my exercise. I’ve quickly gained what I shall refer to as “The Epidemic Eight” and I’m well on my way to “The Quarantine Twenty.” The weighty bread does not help. I try to walk every day, but there’s only so many times you can look at the same streets without getting bored. Listening to podcasts helps; I recommend We Hate Movies, Teacher’s Lounge, and anything with Paul F. Tompkins.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Corey Redekop: I’ve never been the most outgoing personality, so I’m well-suited to bunker-style living thus far. I do miss the occasional night of board games with friends, but we’re looking into online options. And I really miss going to movies. I count myself lucky in that my last moviegoing experience was the excellent Parasite. I have a few online friends who must suffer a lackluster night of Bloodshot to fondly look back on.

When I do leave the house, I take all steps required to stay away and apart from others, wearing a mask when necessary and being respectful of others’ personal space. I see footage online of people refusing to take such measures, protesting for their right to get sick and die, which I suppose is… a choice? I try not to despair, but when politicians advocate for death over the economy — when people argue that their right to a haircut takes precedent over my health — it’s difficult to stay positive. 

Is humanity reallythis self-centered and stupid, Magic 8-Ball? All signs point to yes. White men, anyway.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Corey Redekop: Not much. It’s fortunate (in this exact scenario alone) that I’m a tremendously undisciplined and erratic writer. The impact on my creative product has been minimal.

havetaken major steps on finishing a novel I’ve been toying with for years. However, my cat of eleven years suddenly passed away a few weeks ago, which utterly wrecked me. I’m slowly coming around, but I still expect this silly, clumsy ball of fluff to be wandering around my office and squeaking for attention. It’s like phantom limb syndrome; I find myself reaching for her, and I’m still surprised when she’s not there anymore. Phantom pet syndrome. My brain acknowledges that she’s absent, but my body refuses the proof.

I’m getting back to writing, and I think I can have the first draft done by July. Thus far the book is wildly inconsistent in tone and plot development, there are scads of scenes that demand to be thrown out, I know I’ve forgotten about at least two characters, and I don’t know if the mystery aspect of it works at all. But hey, isn’t that what first drafts are for? My buddy Randal Graham (of the deliriously funny Beforelife) has given me valuable feedback and, perhaps more importantly, heaps of praise. 

Like most authors, I remain convinced and/or deluded that this isn’t all just a waste of effort.


Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

Speculating Canada Online Writing Workshop: Speculative Futurisms

Sign up  for the first of Speculating Canada’s writing workshop series taught by Trent University instructor Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD. Our workshop series allows us connect and write together and maybe to collapse some of the social distance by coming together online as a community. 

This workshop is free. 

Date: Friday, May 8 at 2:00 PM EST

Location: Online on Zoom

Our first topic will be:

Speculative Futurisms

Workshop Participants will have a chance to look at a new technology that either has been developed or is being considered for development. We ponder how that technology may change humanity’s engagement with the world around them. We will have a chance to consider techniques for creating powerful speculative fiction, imagining different worlds and the social changes that come about through changes in technology.

Derek Newman-Stille (they/them) teaches multiple courses at Trent University including continuing education courses in creative writing. Derek’s background is in classics and archaeology, and they will draw on that knowledge when exploring the mythic with you. Derek traditionally teaches feminist disability studies. They are the 9 time Aurora Award winning creator of Speculating Canada www.speculatingcanada.ca and has edited the collections We Shall Be Monsters (Renaissance Press) and Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins (Exile).

There are limited spaces available, so sign up at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/speculating-canada-writing-workshop-speculative-futurisms-tickets-104217711982

Remember, although this workshop is free, please don’t take a space if you are unable to attend since this will prevent others from accessing it.