An Interview with Terese M Pierre about her Book Look Makeovers and Poetry

Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille

Spec Can: To start our interview, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Terese M Pierre: Sure! I’m a writer and editor, based in Toronto. At this point, I’m mainly writing poetry, but I also sometimes write essays, about my experiences in the writing community and my family. I’m also the senior editor of poetry at Augur Magazine, a speculative literature magazine in Toronto.

Spec Can: What inspired you to start doing Book Looks?

Terese M Pierre: I started doing book looks as a way to celebrate two novels that I had read and loved (Eternity Martis’s, “They Said This Would Be Fun,” and Tessa McWatt’s, “Shame On Me”) near the start of the quarantine. It was also during a time when I was feeling very down and fatigued, and wanted to use makeup as a creative outlet.

Terese M Pierre’s book look for Eternity Martis’ They Said This Would Be Fun
Cover photo for Eternity Martis’ They Said This Would Be Fun

Spec Can: Many of your Book Looks bring attention to books by marginalized authors. Can you tell us a bit about the importance of supporting marginalized authors and the way that your Book Looks highlight the important work being done?

Terese M Pierre: I didn’t start doing the book looks as a way to promote specific books or authors per se, but because it was fun and it made me happy. Later on, I chose to do book looks for marginalized authors to bring attention to the great work they were doing, their craft and skill and talent. Some people online would comment that they had never heard of the books that I was doing, which I found interesting. Since the pandemic started, a lot of in-person book launches were cancelled, so it was important for me to promote the books of marginalized authors at that time—maybe it was a kind of marketing, hopefully they found it helpful. Nowadays, I’m doing a lot of Black American authors, to show my support their art during a time of great turmoil.

Terese M Pierre’s book look for jaye simpson’s It Was Never Going to be Okay
Cover photo for jaye simpson’s It Was Never Going to be Okay

Spec Can: How did you come to be interested in make up art? What inspired you to get into make up art?

Terese M Pierre: I turned 19 and decided that it was time for me to start wearing makeup. I don’t know why—maybe I associated it with adulthood, like alcohol. Still, I barely touched the makeup I had for a few years, save for special occasions. I started watching YouTube tutorials to practice. I think my makeup book looks are quite conservative, to be honest, or perhaps, more wearable. At the time when I started doing book looks, makeup was the only thing I had around that I felt most comfortable using. It would have always been my first choice.

Terese M Pierre’s book look for Jordan Ifueko’s Raybearer
Cover photo for Jordan Ifueko’s Raybearer

Spec Can: Make up art is highly personal, literally using your own face as a canvas. What is that experience like — to literally be part of your art?

Terese M Pierre: While it is incredibly personal, I try not to see it that way. My face is very front-and-center, and it’s very easy for me to get caught up on my blemishes, how wide my cheeks are, how my skin tone is “clashing” with the makeup. There are makeup book looks I’ve shared that I didn’t personally like, but I knew that other people might not see it the same way I did. At the same time, knowing that my face is necessarily part of the art has made me more confident. I’m finding things about my face that I love.

Terese M Pierre’s book look for Tochi Onyebuchi’s Riot Baby
Cover photo for Tochi Onyebuchi’s Riot Baby

Spec Can: What is it like to have your own art work (in the form of make-up) in conversation with another artist’s work – the book cover artist? How do you decide what elements to pull out of the book art and adapt?

Terese M Pierre: As I like to make my looks a little more wearable, there are a limited number of eye shapes I can do. After I choose one, it’s a matter of picking which colour goes where. I love colourful covers for this reason. If there are other details on the cover, such as leaves, flowers, smoke, wings, and the like, I add them where it makes sense, to the best of my artistic abilities. I don’t think I go too off-base when it comes to interpreting the cover-artist’s art. I know I don’t—and can’t—get things perfectly. A few cover artists have reached out to say they liked my makeup look, and that meant a lot to me. I like that they still appreciate my iteration of their art.

Terese M Pierre’s book look for Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon
Cover Photo for Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon

Spec Can: What are some of your favourite colour palettes for your book looks?

Terese M Pierre: I like blue/purple palettes, and sunset (red/orange/yellow/pink) palettes. They’re really easy to blend, and I think they look great on me.

Terese M Pierre’s book look for Tade Thompson’s The Rosewater Redemption
Cover photo for Tade Thompson’s The Rosewater Redemption

Spec Can: What are some of the books that you were the most excited to create Book Looks for and what did these books mean to you?

Terese M Pierre: The book looks for the first two books I did (Eternity Martis’s, “They Said This Would Be Fun,” and Tessa McWatt’s, “Shame On Me”) were the ones I believe I was the most excited to make. It meant a lot to me to showcase the new work of Black women. I’m always most excited to do book looks for Black women authors.

Spec Can: How have authors responded when they have seen you perform your Book Looks on social media?

Terese M Pierre: Almost all authors who’ve seen the book looks that I make—I tag them on Twitter, but they don’t always see it—have responded positively, and have shared the looks with their audiences. What I always try to get across is that doing makeup book looks is that I’m doing this for fun, not for work.

Terese M Pierre’s book look for Amanda Leduc’s Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space
Cover photo for Amanda Leduc’s Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space

Spec Can: I know I said that I was going to focus on Book Looks, but if you have time, could you tell us a little bit about your own poetry and your recent chap book Manifest?

Terese M Pierre: I write a lot about nature and romance, and the variations those themes could take. A lot of my poetry—like my first chapbook, Surface Area—deal with desire, tension and self-reflection regarding love and (in)dependence. My second chapbook, Manifest, is something different for me. It’s entirely composed of speculative fantasy poems, and it’s the first time I’m putting out something in that style—it’s sort of an experiment. I’d only started writing speculative/fantasy poetry in the past year, but when I performed my work at readings, they were well-received. Hopefully this chapbook is well-received, too.

Spec Can: In your poem “Fortune”, you focus on foods and the visceral quality of food, but food takes on meanings of space, place, and identity. What guided your interest in places and their relationship to food?

Terese M Pierre: For me, the focus of that poem was the relationship between the speaker and their beloved, and food was a means through which love was expressed. The fact that the beloved made the effort to find the brand of ice cream the speaker loves was part of that emphasis on connection and love. Food—the ice cream in this case—in this poem, is a path to learning about someone’s history, their fears, their desires, especially a person who is not immediately trusting. I try, whenever I can, to ground my poems in concrete things—physical places and foods, and the relationships they bring, are ways in which I can do that.

Spec Can: In your poem “Lines”, what inspired your linking of place and story? What do you notice about the way that places where we have lived are linked to the stories we tell… and perhaps have shaped our own stories?

Terese M Pierre: As someone who’s lived in 3 countries, location, narrative, and memory were interesting things to think about in the context of relationships. We are physical people—the way we move through the world is filtered through our bodies and where our bodies are, the space we take up. I think that the fact that different bodies can experience the same space differently is fascinating, and can definitely inform stories in unique ways. I try to consider that when writing poetry—the speaker isn’t me, so how do they move about the world? What space does their body take up? What stories can they tell? Trying to inhabit the world of the poem and the mind of the speaker in the context of bodies and space is a challenge that never gets old.

Spec Can: Are there any resources that you would like to point fans to so that they can support your work?

Terese M Pierre: I have a website, www.teresemasonpierre.com, and that’s where most of the links to my work are, as well as where to go to pre-order my chapbook. I’m afraid I don’t have anything else, but I’m always happy when others support my work.


Spec Can: I want to thank Terese M Pierre for taking the time to share some of her amazing Book Looks on Facebook and Twitter and for taking the time to chat here on Speculating Canada about her brilliant art work.


Terese Mason Pierre is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in Canthius, The Puritan, Quill and Quire, and Strange Horizons, among others. She is currently the Senior Poetry Editor of Augur Magazine, a Canadian speculative literature journal. Terese has also previously volunteered with Shab-e She’r poetry reading series, and facilitated creative writing workshops. Terese lives and works in Toronto.

Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD (They/Them)

Authors in Quarantine – Julie Czerneda

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?

Julie Czerneda: It’s been work as normal for us in many ways, especially coming out of winter. I turned in a book in February and the next is due early June. That’s a good pace. My publisher, DAW Books, has all their staff working from home and eager to see material flow. As I’d already been driving hard to turn in my current WIP, SPECTRUM, early, to give me more time ahead for a “secret project,” I haven’t lacked motivation. Now? Because spring is like a tonic, especially to see the green things and birds, the struggle to balance outside and office is pretty familiar. It’s not a bad thing.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Julie Czerneda: I’m very fortunate to live with my best friend and partner (coming up to 44 years, btw) Roger. We have offices and room to roam in our house, and much to do. For breaks and exercise, we love walks and biking, so that’s all good. I won’t lie, it’s agony at times being apart from the rest of our family and friends. Videos of loved ones are bittersweet. Sometimes I’ll sniffle a while afterwards. Not being able to help is the worst, but we know we’re protecting one another and are in it together. The end of this will come.

Like many, I can say we’re getting a great deal done on several fronts simply because we’re not leaving town or dividing our time. Oh, and I must applaud Roger for being our designated Seeker of Needful Things. I haven’t shopped since March 14th. (When I bought my wonderful new keyboard, so there’s that.)

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Julie Czerneda: I am grateful to be writing Esen. She’s family and joy, along with the suspense, and there’s a great release in finding new weird aliens around every corner. I don’t know if I could have written MAGE during this. Maybe. Glad I don’t have to find out.

The first week I couldn’t focus as well. The significance of the news was overwhelming–trouble with a science background, we both had a sense of how huge the problem would become. By the second, I’d regained my rhythm, but my daily word count was down maybe 20% overall until lately. (I track it) I do allow myself to walk away, then try again later. We leave the news till after our workday, as best we can. That helps. Plus we’re wary of what we watch or read for pleasure. Some themes cut too close right now and that’s normal.

Fortunately, the new book has hit the climatic portion–so much happens!–and that’s always the smoothest/fastest for me to write. I’m already seeing my numbers head back to normal. As for tone…that’s interesting. When I need to decompress, I’ve gravitated to rereading favourite mysteries, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. Bonus? That tingly sense of oooh REVEAL CLUE!!!! has crept in to my story, which is fun.

Coffee and cheesecake from the local bakery

Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

Authors in Quarantine – James Alan Gardner

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?

James Alan Gardner: Writing, reading, and playing computer games. Lately, I’ve also been playing a lot of tabletop role-playing games via Zoom. Gaming is good way of interacting with people; I’d feel a little strange just calling people up and talking to them, but playing games together makes things a bit more structured than just chatting.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

James Alan Gardner: I went to buy groceries this afternoon, and I felt as if shoppers were far less scrupulous about distancing than even a week ago. Personally, I still try to maintain the 2-metre distance, but it’s difficult when other people are less cautious. Something I reflect on when I go for a walk around my neighbourhood (which I do every day): a few months ago, it would have been horrendously rude to cross over to the other side of the street when you see someone coming toward you. Now, it’s civic virtue.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

James Alan Gardner: I’ve been working on the third draft of a novel throughout the quarantine, and for better or worse, most of the basics of the story are staying pretty much as they were in the previous draft. In other words, the disease isn’t having much effect on the work itself. But what about future work? How much will COVID-19 affect fiction in all the years to come…especially now when most of what I write takes place in a contemporary setting (albeit in a fictionalized world)? What will SF look like in two years? I think about that a lot. There should be huge effects, but I don’t think I’m ready to face that yet.


Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

Authors in Quarantine – Douglas Smith

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

A pic of our backyard from the room where I write. Centred in it hanging from the tree is a bird feeder which keeps my attention throughout the day. At least the birds are free to roam in the world.

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

Douglas Smith: Thank you for inviting me to participate in this discussion on Speculating Canada. What have I been up to? Basically, staying home with my wife and our youngest son. We’ve shopped online more in the past two months than any previous two years. We’re both in a high-risk category for the virus, so we’ve moved to ordering online and doing delivery or curbside pickup at stores for everything.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Douglas Smith: Lots of video calls with family, friends, and writing friends. I’d worked in global roles for about 15 years, so I was used to lots of video calls and meetings, but for business, not social. Now it’s weekly calls with family, a couple of times a month for virtual game nights with friends, playing bridge online with my wife. And our regular weekend trips to the movies have moved online, too, of course.

Interestingly, the situation has increased some social contacts. I now have a monthly call with a group of friends from around the world from one of the global jobs I held, where we used to get together physically once every couple of years. And I’ve reconnected via Zoom with a writer friend I hadn’t seen for almost a decade. 

I also have a daily “writing sprint” Zoom call with my critique group, where we chat for a bit then do 25-minute Pomodoro writing sessions, then chat some more. Rinse and repeat for a couple of hours every afternoon. We set it up as a standing daily call, but I don’t think any of us expected we’d all show up every day, but that’s generally what’s happened. We’ve moved our critique meetings online, as well.

I was scheduled to give a series of three workshops up at the Newmarket library in April, based on my writer’s guide, Playing the Short Game: How to Market & Sell Short Fiction. The in-person workshops were cancelled, but we managed to move them online to great success. I’ll be giving another in the series online on June 18 to the Writers Community of York Region.

I work out at home. I still get out cycling, but only around our area here in Markham, and I wear a buff as a mask and stick to the streets. We have great ravine and park cycling paths here but sadly they’re too crowded to maintain social distancing. The upside is that there are much fewer cars on the roads these days.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Douglas Smith: The daily writing sprint Zoom calls with my critique group have helped. I wrote a new 10,000-word short story (ok, yeah, not so short at 10k) in April using those meetings. Hopefully, the powers-that-be aren’t monitoring my search history, because my research for that one included “How long does it take to dig a grave?” I had a scary number of writer friends provide detailed answers. I don’t think I want to know how they know, you know?

Now, I’m trying to get back into writing book 3 of an urban fantasy trilogy I’ve been working on. I’d be curious to know what writers are reporting. My productivity varies, I’m finding. A new 10,000-word story in a month is good for me (I’m a slow writer and 10k in a story is harder than 10k in a novel). But there are days when I struggle to make any progress on any creative tasks.

There is a sameness to the days now. Even when you’re talking to different people on video calls, you’re still sitting at the same computer screen at the same desk. I used to shake up my writing routine by switching locations where I wrote—the local library, different coffee shops, as well as at home. These days, my options are limited to what room I sit in.

But it’s also given me time to do some much delayed work on my website, including setting up a new online store. As a thank you for this interview, your readers, if they wish, can use the discount code SPEC-CDA-25 on my store to get a 25% discount on all titles for the next few weeks.


Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

Authors in Quarantine – Ursula Pflug

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?

Ursula Pflug: Folks have told me they feel as though they are living in one of my stories and there is a story in my third collection, Seeds and Other Stories, which has just gone to press, that’s about a pandemic.

Seeds is launching virtually on June 11 — it’s possible to register online in advance — please do. This book spans decades, it includes work that has appeared in award winning genre and literary publications in the US and the UK as well as at home in Canada. It’s my third collection and is coming out from Inanna, a Toronto scholarly and feminist press. The cover, which includes seeds and spaceships, is by Val Fullard who does all the Inanna covers. I know her from the old days in the Queen West scene in Toronto when she played in women’s bands with mutual friends. It’s one of my fave covers ever, and illustrates the cover story.

The pandemic story is called “Judy”, and was first published in 1983 in This Magazine, back when it was still edited by Lorraine Filyer. The first line is “That was the summer all the non smokers died”, and it follows a citizen scientist who stays up all night crunching data and then joins her roommates on the roof for a drink and to watch the sunrise. They’ve been there partying all night and mock her, just a little, but it’s her science that makes the correlations between smoking and survival. My husband is high risk not just because he’s over 65 but because he smokes and he was gratified when I told him about this surreal science fictional premise.

I spent the early days of lock down in copy-edits for this book, the usual fiddly and time consuming back and forth and it was actually a welcome relief because while the amazing Luciana Ricciutelli and I discussed whether hanafuda, liliko’i, poi, and wasabi should be italicized (yes, yes, yes, no) time went by during which I wasn’t, gratefully, thinking about Covid at all.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Ursula Pflug: We spend a lot of time working at home together anyway so our life hasn’t appreciably changed. I lost an eight week spring workshop — I prefer classroom teaching to online teaching. I’ve been doing more mentoring by email, mainly for short stories and do feel free to get in touch if you’re interested — but I do miss socializing with other bodies. Sometimes I organize drop offs or pickups of car seats or plants with friends and neighbours just so we can chat in the yard for a while. A good friend in Victoria has organized a weekly Happy Hour on Zoom for members of the electronic arts community and that has now become something we look forward to.

I felt shamed by all the baking pics on social media and made muffins. The muffins were good, but I gave up baking for a reason. Not so the victory garden. I’ve been an avid organic vegetable gardener for decades but in the last few years cut back, largely because our raised beds have gone feral and now are filled with jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), used in traditional indigenous medicine as an antidote to poison ivy. It’s beloved by pollinators — enough reason to not rip it out so I can give the beds back to tomatoes. Instead, we’re building new ones. We plan to fill them by the ancient method of Hügelkultur or hill culture. It’s a permaculture method hailing from Germany and Eastern Europe that no one here had ever heard of but which now shows up in our feeds not quite as often as sourdough but close. I’m only a little smug about being able to pronounce it properly. We are putting more time and effort into resusitating the garden than in recent years and glad of it. For one thing, we will be able to share with friends and neighbours who are living exclusively on their CERB. 

I’ve been on the Sunburst Award jury for short fiction. I stepped in as one of the jury members dropped out when the reading period had already begun. My wonderful fellow jurors were Sarah Tolmie and Omar el Akkad and we had interesting video chats — Portland, Toronto, Peterborough. I lobbied for WhatsApp, so dead simple you’re unlikely to say embarassing things in a livestream to Facebook from Zoom meeting as I have in fact recently done. Your friends, family and colleagues will love you once they have used it for the first time. We have an amazing Sunburst shortlist this year and the winning story is by a writer I hadn’t yet known which is always a delight. Stay tuned.

We’re both over 60 so we’re not really supposed to go to the store unless we go from 7- 8 a.m. However morning brain, as I call it to Doug, is the time during which one which can most efficiently edit so I’m not going to waste it sanitizing my hands and wandering the  aisles while trying to remember not to touch the cans. As well as being in the semi-retired demographic a lot of our friends are wildcrafters. We figure, if you don’t want to go to the store, you can go outside and pick dinner. Today it will be day lily sprouts, a first for me. Staying healthy isn’t based only on social distancing and hand washing, important as these are, but also on what you put in your body and wild foods will boost your immune system more than spaghetti. Trent Hills Homegrown Hamper delivers prepared meals from The Bakery in Warkworth and we have almost grown tired of their amazing Shepherd’s Pie. 

I read The Plague by Albert Camus. It was possibly rec’d online by Sang Kim who like me is a Camus fan. I read a digital library copy from Overdrive. This book was startling as it describes, note for note, what we are going through — quarantine, both fudged and effective official responses, the scramble for vaccines, hardworking medical staff, community solidarity, tragic losses, the effects of separation. It was published in ’47 and is considered an allegory for the occupation of France. As a description of an epidemic it’s eerily familiar. Not for the faint of heart but brilliant and startling for its echoes.

There’s a 6 k walk on the side roads around my village and I do it almost every day, Covid or not. I get ideas but mostly I clear my head. There are more people out walking now; we wave and stay on our own sides of the road. And I observe birds, even though I’m not really a birder. There are often ravens fluttering around the hydro poles, and on the fence of one of the farms there is a sign which reads, Raven Predation Project Participant. Me being me I had to find out what raven predation was so I went home and looked it up. The raven predation project is a Ministry of Agriculture initiative. Apparently ravens will prey on livestock, pecking out the eyeballs of living sheep and other animals. Now when I come home Doug says, “I see you foiled the ravens and still have your eyeballs.” I am not making this up. If I was a horror writer I would use it but I’m not. Go ahead and you’re welcome.

Shameless self promotion for June 11 virtual book launch:

https://www.crowdcast.io/e/inanna-booklaunch1/register

Join us for a virtual evening of readings and revelry featuring Lisa Braxton, author of The Talking Drum, Paul Butler, author of Mina’s Child, April Ford, author of Carousel, Rebecca Luce-Kapler, author of The Negation of Chronology: Imagining Geraldine Moodie, and Ursula Pflug, author of Seeds and Other Stories. Books discounted for event, Author Q & A & more! https://www.inanna.ca/


Ursula Pflug is author or editor of ten novels, novellas, edited anthologies and story collections. Her fiction has appeared in Canada, the US and the UK, in award winning genre and literary publications including Lightspeed, Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Postscripts, Leviathan, Now Magazine and Bamboo Ridge. Her books have been endorsed by Jeff VanderMeer, Tim Wynne-Jones, Candas Jane Dorsey, Charles DeLint, Mathew Cheney, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Heather Spears and others. Her short stories have been taught in universities in Canada and India, and she has collaborated extensively with filmmakers, playwrights, choreographers and installation artists. Her fiction has won small press awards abroad and been a finalist for the Aurora, ReLit and KM Hunter Awards as well as the 3 Day Novel and Descant Novella Contests at home. Pflug’s work has been funded by The Ontario Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts and The Laidlaw Foundation. A new reprint collection, Seeds, is forthcoming in May. (Photo Credit Andy Carroll).

Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

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

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