Authors in Quarantine – Mark Leslie Lefebvre

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?

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: I’ve actually been re-discovering a creative exercise that I used to formerly use as a writing warm up. Writing parody lyrics to songs and poems. I have always enjoyed the way that such a bit of work forces you to fit something into a forced structure but take the meaning in a new direction. It becomes something with a familiar pattern and sound, but something new. And often, something humorous.

Early on during Covid-19 isolation, my partner Liz and I started creating parody music videos. I’d write the lyrics, then we’d workshop them into something, record the song, and then make a video. We put out “Stuck In This House Here With You” a parody of the old Steelers Wheel classic. But it’s not just a spoof, there’s a ‘story’ in the tale of two people forced into isolation with one another, initially finding the annoying things about it, and one another, then coming to realize how fortunate they both are to be stuck with THAT special other person.

Our second parody video was a compilation of short parodies of Rogers and Parton’s “Islands in the Stream” (Sharing Broadband Streams), Patsy Cline’s “Walking” (I Go Shoppin’), The Carpenters’ “There’s a Kind of Hush” (You Just Need to Hush), and others, done in the style of an old K-Tel commercial.

I then did short dad jokes converted into short films, and a Cheers-parody of me drinking alone in isolation called Mark’s Tavern.

Those exercises helped keep my creative juices flowing, satisfied the part of my soul that yearns to be a storyteller, but then helped re-clear the path to get back into the prose writing that I had initially been having trouble with when the lockdown and isolation from the pandemic first started.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Prior to the social distancing, I spent about 60% of my time working from home anyway, as a writer and a book industry representative. Just under half of my time was spent on the road, traveling to writer conferences, etc. So a lot of that time was spent in airports and hotels.

I do miss the fun of interacting with people in person, with the pleasures that come from exploring different locals, discovering great local micro and craft breweries, etc. So that has been a bit difficult. But I’ve doubled-down on doing virtual interviews with authors, both for my podcast, as well as the regular Draft2Digital live author spotlight interviews I’ve done. I’ve also done live readings and live beer and scotch tastings on my various social media outlets, as well as ongoing dad jokes. Just trying to do my job as a storyteller and entertainer – but that work also, as I mentioned already, reward me intrinsically.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Initially, it was stifling. I was feeling blocked and having difficulty focusing on the writing that I figured I would now have time to do – particularly with the cancelation of all the time-consuming travel. But, as I mentioned, I channeled that creativity into lyrics, music, videos, and that helped path the path to get back into writing.

I also looked at a series I had started and planned on working on a while back, my “Canadian Werewolf” novels, and decided it was time to make some forward progress on it. I had the previous two titles, THIS TIME AROUND (a short story), A CANADIAN WEREWOLF IN NEW YORK (a novel), re-branded with a cover designer I’d had, in time for the launch of the next book in that series STOWE AWAY (novella), as well as two other works in that series. I also invested in getting audiobooks out for them. That exercise has re-inspired me to dig back into the writing of those books.

I have also committed to writing another non-fiction book about the business of writing and publishing (WIDE FOR THE WIN in my Stark Publishing Solutions series to join THE 7 P’S OF PUBLISHING SUCCESS, KILLING IT ON KOBO, and AN AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO WORKING WITH LIBRARIES AND BOOKSTORES is slated for release in early 2021), as well as a couple of non-fiction ghost story books that have been on the back-burner for a while.

And I’m sure that the pandemic, in general, will also inform and inspire more works as time goes on. I think that most writers will agree that a good part of what we do is we absorb things around us, re-adapt the things we experience, see, hear, and feel into fiction, into poetry, into other forms of creativity. I look forward to both writing about, and reading what other writers and artists create from this.

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

Mark Leslie Lefebvre is the author of more than twenty books that include fiction and thrillers, and paranormal non-fiction explorations. He has also edited numerous anthologies. With three decades of experience in bookselling and publishing, Mark is a seasoned and trusted book industry professional who embraces both traditional and indie publishing options. His website is: http://www.markleslie.ca.

Interview with Regina Hansen, August 2020

Spec Can: It’s great to chat with you again Regina. Last time we chatted was a couple of years ago and it will be wonderful to catch up. Can you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Regina Hansen: Sure. I’m a writer and scholar of supernatural subjects. I was born on Prince Edward Island, raised partly there, then in Montreal. I moved to Massachusetts – where my mother’s family lives – when I was a teenager. I live in Somerville, Massachusetts with my husband and three kids. I’ve written a bunch of scholarly work, and some non-fiction for kids, and now have a YA novel coming out.

Spec Can: I am fascinated by the supernatural subjects that you research. Can you tell us a little bit more about those?

Regina Hansen: My scholarly research tends to be based in myth and religion, and how these are reflected in horror/fantasy film and television. I’ve written a lot about angels and demons and have a scholarly collection coming out with Jeffrey Weinstock – his idea – called Satan and Cinema. I’ve also worked on Stephen King – with Simon Brown, and on the TV series Supernatural, with Susan George. And somewhat related I’ve enjoyed writing on A Christmas Carol, on Neo Victorianism and Victorian Medievalism, but all with a mythic slant.

Spec Can: That is a fantastic scope of research. Do you find that your scholarly work informs your creative writing? Is there a lot of crossover in the ideas you explore?

Regina Hansen: I started studying and thinking about myth and folklore when I was very small, and so finding ways to work it into my scholarship was a joy. Of course, at the same time, I’ve always done creative work that makes use of myth and folklore. My upcoming novel combines stories I heard as a child from my Prince Edward Island family, as well as different elements of world mythology. Celtic, of course, because it’s set on PEI, but also going back much further — but that’s kind of a secret for those who end up reading the book.

Spec Can: Your book sounds absolutely amazing. Could you tell us a little bit about it?

Regina Hansen: Sure. It’s called The Coming Storm, and features a 15-year-old apprentice fiddle player named Beatrice MacNeil, or Beet — which is actually the nickname of one of my great-great-aunts, and I always thought it was kind of cool. Anyway, Beet’s older cousin, more like a brother, dies under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind his baby son. Beet decides to be the boy’s protector. This decision becomes much more dangerous when a woman — Marina Shaw — shows up trying to claim the boy.

Meanwhile there are all these tales of a shapeshifting sea creature and a woman who shows up at the sight of drownings and shipwrecks, singing a frightening but seductive song. Beet and her friends have to find a way to protect the baby and get to the bottom of the strange and scary events that have been happening in the town. Beet’s training in music will come in handy, but so will her learning to trust other people.

Spec Can: I love a good sea creature story. What inspired the focus on the sea? Have you had a long fascination with the sea?

Regina Hansen: Yes! The sea is the one place I am always happy.

I think it is being born on an island.

So combine that absolute joy whenever I am at the ocean with a love of folklore and music … that’s where the book came from.

Spec Can: One of my areas of interest is nissology (Island Studies), so I adore discussions of islands. In what way do you think your story is shaped by being an “island story”?

Regina Hansen: First of all it makes use of the geography and some history of a specific island, Prince Edward Island. But also, there’s this general character of island people where everyone tends to know each other and each other’s stories, a whole world in microcosm. I’ve spoken to people from other island about this. I have cousins from Martha’s Vineyard and friends from some of the Hawaiian islands, and you often hear the same thing, same experience of seeing someone in the bank and they say “Oh, are you staying and so an so’s cottage this year?”And you just met the person in the bank.

Spec Can: I love that closeness that islands can bring for people. How about you, personally – how do you think being from Prince Edward Island (PEI) has shaped you?

Regina Hansen: It probably shaped my sense of humour, the turns of phrase I use, the kinds of flowers I like, the fact that I like flowers at all! Seriously, the kinds of baking I do. My grandmother taught me to read and crochet. Spending every summer with my grandparents after we moved away, it helped me to appreciate peace and quiet, and clean air, and knowing when certain plants grow and what the tides are. Not being spoiled. I get a lot of that from both sides of my family, of course, but there are things I can do and that I know about that other people my age don’t know — everything from how to read a recipe using an oil stove to what sound certain birds make.

Spec Can: You mentioned that folk music was an important part of The Coming Storm. Can you tell us a little bit about how music has influenced your book and what inspired you to weave it through the story?

Regina Hansen: First of all, I come from a family of musicians. My father and brother are professional musicians. There are are also many performers on my mother’s side of the family. The kind of music in the book — folk or roots, music, fiddle music — that was something I heard all the time on the Island, on the radio and also live. Also my father has won awards for playing and promoting regional music and has a radio show called Bluegrass Island. There’s vocal music in the book, too. I’m an amateur singer — and have been taking lessons recently — I also used to play the trombone. All of this experience and training went into the book.

Spec Can: That is fantastic! Do you find that there is any Prince Edward Island folklore in the music you have encountered?

Regina Hansen: Yes, there are songs and tunes based on ghost stories and Island legends, like Lennie Gallant’s Tales of the Phantom Ship.

Spec Can: I always love a good ghost story. Could you tell us a little bit about some of the ghost stories you remember?

Regina Hansen: So some of them are very specific to the town where my Dad grew up and around there. There’s one about a woman who waited on a bridge for her son to return from seeing a girl she didn’t like. She died there, and now haunts the bridge — at least that’s what my Dad says. There are stories of people being seen in their homes when they were actually in the process of dying hundreds of miles away — some cultures call that a “fetch” although I never heard that term used. There are stories about the Devil showing up in disguise or of black dogs bringing omens. Some of these I heard from my family. Some were things kids talked about at swimming lessons.

I think you can hear these stories in a lot of places. I just happened to pay attention because like you I love a good ghost story.

Spec Can:You are living in Massachusetts now, have you noticed a difference between the way that ghost stories are told in Massachusetts versus how they are told in Prince Edward Island?

Regina Hansen: Interestingly there are a lot of similarities. There is a long historical connection between Massachusetts and Atlantic Canada.

I owe my existence to it.

Spec Can: Oh, fascinating! Can you tell us more?

Regina Hansen: Well, my parents met when my mother went up to the Island for school. She heard about what was then St Dunstan’s University from neighbours who were from PEI. Somerville, There was a period in the 70s when a third of the population of Somerville was originally from somewhere in the Maritimes. I still know people from Boston to Cape Cod who have family on Prince Edward Island, or in Antigonish or Cape Breton. My family and many others called the US the “Boston States.”

Spec Can: The Coming Storm is a Young Adult book. What got you interested in writing YA?

Regina Hansen: I’ve written all my life, but I focus on children’s and YA supernatural fiction because those were the books I most loved.They were my escape. They made my life better in every way. If I can, I would like to recreate for young readers the joy I experienced reading those books at 11, 12, 13, 14 years old. You know that feeling of hiding a way on a summer evening to read a book, that spiritual lift. I would love my work to do that for a kid.

Spec Can: What would it have meant to you to have a book like yours when you were a teen?

Regina Hansen: Honestly, in some ways I would just like to live up to some of the books I was lucky enough to read when I was a young teen. But I do think I would have liked to have encountered my heroine, Beet, as a teen. She’s strong and sort of vinegar-y. She’s from very limited means and has a lot of responsibility for a young girl, and she just does what she has to do. I personally understand that experience, and I also see in her women like my grandmothers and mother — good hearts in tough packages.

I really appreciate my agent and editor for not pushing me to decentralize the female character. Especially this character.

Spec Can: When is The Coming Storm coming out and how do we find it?

Regina Hansen: The Coming Storm is due summer 2021, so there’s a bit of wait still. It will be published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon and Schuster — and I couldn’t be happier.

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

Regina Hansen: Only that I feel honored to be interviewed about this work.

Spec Can: I want to thank you for a fantastic interview and for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with me today. I am extremely excited to read The Coming Storm when it comes out!!

Regina M Hansen is the author of the forthcoming young adult supernatural novel The Coming Storm (Atheneum Summer 2021). She teaches at Boston University and (as Regina Hansen) is the co-editor (with Susan George) of Supernatural, Humanity and the soul: The Highway to Hell and Back, author/editor of Roman Catholicism in Fantastic Film (McFarland 2011) and co-editor (with Matthew Parfitt and Stephen Dilks) of the reader Cultural Conversations: The Presence of the Past (Bedford-St. Martins, 2001). Her recent scholarship has appeared in Science Fiction Film and Television and the anthologies Neo-Victorian Families (eds. Christian Gutleben and Marie-Luise Kohlke, Rodopi 2011) and Fathers in Victorian Fiction (ed. Natalie McKnight, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2011). She is also a contributor to The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Filmic Monsters (ed. Jeffrey Weinstock, Ashgate 2014), and has reviewed for The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts.

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

Prix Aurora Awards 2020

Congratulations to all of the winners of the 2020 Prix Aurora Awards.

As many of you know, Speculating Canada was nominated again this year for the Best Fan Related Work Category, and congratulations everyone, we won! Speculating Canada started as a way for me to give back to the Canadian SF community and it has been exciting to see it grow and change. It was meant to be a way of creating community and opening up conversations about Canadian Speculative Fiction, and I have been honoured to be part of so many important conversations with all of you authors, fans, publishers, artists, and academics. I am so lucky that we have been able to have the conversations we have and that we have been able to work together toward social change. Although officially my name is listed on this award, it is an award that should reflect all of you as members of this community and reflect all of the work we do together to ask deep questions about SF. I am honoured to have been able to be on this journey with all of you and to continue that journey as we move forward.

The nominees this year were:

Best Novel

Best YA Novel

Best Short Fiction

  • This Is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone (Saga)
  • “Clear as Quartz, Sharp as Flint”, Maria Haskins (Augur 2.1)
  • Alice Payne Rides, Kate Heartfield (Tor.com Publishing)
  • “Little Inn on the Jianghu”, Y.M. Pang (F&SF 9/19)
  • “Modigliani Paints the World”, Hayden Trenholm (Neo-Opsis 30)
  • “Blindside”, Liz Westbrook-Trenholm (Amazing Stories Fall ’19)

Best Graphic Novel

Best Related Work

  • PodCastle, Jen R. Albert & Cherae Clark, eds.
  • Nothing Without Us, Cait Gordon & Talia C. Johnson (Renaissance)
  • Neo-opsis, Karl Johanson, ed.
  • Lackington’s, Ranylt Richildis, ed.
  • “Dave Duncan’s Legacy”, Robert Runté (On Spec 111)
  • Augur, Kerrie Seljak-Byrne, ed.

Best Poem/Song

  • “The Girl Who Loved Birds”, Clara Blackwood (Amazing Stories Spring ’19)
  • “At the Edge of Space and Time”, Swati Chavda (Love at the Speed of Light)
  • “Steampunk Christmas”, David Clink (Star*Line Fall ’19)
  • “The Day the Animals Turned to Sand”, Tyler Hagemann (Amazing Stories Spring ’19)
  • “Totemic Ants”, Francine P. Lewis (Amazing Stories Fall ’19)
  • “Beauty, Sleeping”, Lynne Sargent (Augur Magazine 2.2)
  • “Bursts of Fire”, Sora (theme song for book trailers)

Best Artist

  • Samantha M. Beiko, cover for Bursts of Fire
  • James F. Beveridge, cover for Fata Morgana and cover for On Spec 112
  • Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk, “A Rivet of Robots” in On Spec and cartoons in Amazing Stories
  • Nathan Fréchette, covers for Renaissance Press
  • Dan O’Driscoll, covers for Bundoran Press and cover for On Spec 110

Best Visual Presentation

  • The Umbrella Academy
  • V Wars, Season 1
  • Killjoys, Season 5
  • Murdoch Mysteries, Episodes 10-18 in Season 12 and Episodes 1-9 in Season 13
  • Van Helsing, Season 4

Best Fan Writing and Publications

Best Fan Organizational

  • KT Bryski and Jen R. Albert, ephemera reading series, Toronto
  • Brent Jans, Pure Speculation Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival, Edmonton
  • Derek Künsken and Marie Bilodeau, co-chairs, Can-Con, Ottawa
  • Randy McCharles, chair, When Words Collide, Calgary
  • Sandra Wickham, Creative Ink Festival, Burnaby, BC

Best Fan Related Work

 

The winners this year were: 

Inductees into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame:

  • Heather Dale
  • Cory Doctorow
  • Matthew Hughes

Best Novel:

  • Julie Czerneda for The Gossamer Mage

Best Young Adult Novel:

  • Susan Forest for Bursts of Fire

Best Short Fiction:

  • Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone for This Is How You Lose The Time War

Best Graphic Novel:

  • S.M. Beiko for Krampus is my Boyfriend

Best Poem/Song:

  • Tie between Swati Chavda for At The Edge of Space and Time
  • and Sora for Bursts of Fire

Best Related Work:

  • Diane Walton for On Spec Magazine

Best Visual Presentation:

  • The Umbrella Academia

Best Artist:

  • Dan O’Driscoll for covers for Bundoran Press and cover for On Spec 110

Best Fan Writing and Publications:

  • R. Graeme Cameron

Best Fan Organizational

  • Marie Bilodeau and Derek Kunsken for Can Con

Best Fan Related Work

  • Derek Newman-Stille for Speculating Canada

 

To watch the Prix Aurora Awards ceremonies, hosted this year by When Worlds Collide, click on the link below:

 

In order to check out the award category for Best Fan Related Work, which Speculating Canada won, click on the link below and see my acceptance speech. 

 

Thank you all for your support and for the support of Canadian Speculative Fiction. Thank you to the folks at When Worlds Collide for hosting the Aurora Awards and thank the Prix Aurora Awards organizational committee for their work. Thank you also to Mark Leslie Lefebvre for being an incredible host for the awards.

I also want to thank the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies at Trent University for their continuing support and encouragement.

What Big Teeth You Have

A review of Cherie Dimaline’s Empire of Wild (Random House, 2019)

By Derek Newman-Stille

A fascinating blend of Red Ridinghood, werewolf fiction, Greek myth, and Rogarou legends of Metis people from the Georgian Bay area, Cherie Dimaline’s Empire of Wild weaves together monstrous wolves into a book that is partially horror story and partially a call for social change. Like many werewolf tales, Empire of Wild calls attention to predatory masculinity, and the Rogarou (from Loup Garou, French for werewolf) she creates are transformed into their animal form by transgressions, primarily against women. The Metis people in Dimaline’s tale all grew up with Rogarou lessens and were taught not to wander too far away from the main paths or they would be stalked by the Rogarou, much as Red Ridinghood’s mother tells her.

Joan is a woman who walks her own paths, and even though early in her childhood, she encountered the Rogarou, she still seeks her own way, often telling herself that the stories of her people are just stories. Yet Joan becomes embroiled in a cosmological battle for her land, her husband, and her lifeways. She has to learn from the stories of her elders and partake of their magic in order to keep herself and her family safe from the predators around them.

Cherie Dimaline brings attention to the predatory nature of white men in particular, highlighting the way that white people have predatorily taken Indigenous lands and continue to try to consume more and more. Whiteness is the personification of consumption in Dimaline’s narrative. Her Metis characters seek to buy back land taken from them by white people, constantly fighting against business interests who try to consume more of their land and fill the land with mines and pipelines. She brings attention to the continuing action of businesses to pollute Indigenous territory and displace Indigenous people from their traditional lands. She explores the implications of the church in that theft of land, pointing out that the church seeks to alienate people from the traditional practices of the land in order to pave the way for businesses to buy up land. One of her characters, a miner, tells her protagonist Joan that the church works to control Indigenous people and saying that “the only real threat to a project – to our jobs – are the Indians. They’re the ones with the goddamned rights, I guess. Always protesting and hauling us into church… But when the missions come through? They’re too busy praying to protest. The missions are good at changing the way people see shit…. Mission tents are an important part of mining, of any project really – mining, forestry, pipelines. That’s what’s going up in here next, a pipeline conversation.” Dimaline brings critical attention to current issues around land rights and pipelines, pointing out the continual exploitation of Indigenous peoples. Dimaline points out that colonialism is not only consumptive, it is predatory and the rogarou becomes a symbolic manifestation of this constant territorial violence.

Dimaline uses the image of predation to talk about the loss of selfhood and identity, creating the danger of a wolf that consumes a person from within, consuming everything that makes them who they are and leaving a hollow shell. But, Dimaline also links the rogarou and its predation to missing and murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, pointing out the way that Indigenous women and girls are especially at threat to predatory behaviour, violence, and death. Dimaline, in particular, highlights the predatory and violent nature of toxic masculinity, providing a critique of the way that masculinity is constructed and the violence of the image of the so-called “alpha male”.

Dimaline’s story is an interplay of fairy tale, myth, legend, and Indigenous cosmology, and, like most tales and traditions, it has powerful implications for rethinking and challenging contemporary issues.

To discover more about Empire of Wild, visit https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/600423/empire-of-wild-by-cherie-dimaline/9780735277182

To discover more about Cherie Dimaline, go to https://cheriedimaline.com


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

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)

Speculating Canada Writing Workshop: Creative Writing For Social Justice

Are you ready for another writing workshop? Are you interested in seeing how we can use our creative writing to make the world a bit better? Join us for another of Speculating Canada’s online writing workshops and come together as a community to write together.

The workshop is free!!

Date: Thursday July 2 at 7:00 PM

Location: Online on Zoom.

Our topic will be:

Creative Writing For Social Justice

Often creative writing is thought of as a fun escape rather than social justice work, but social justice can be achieved through art and art can be a means to provoke new and creative forms of thinking. This online, free workshop will give you a chance to access your creative side and explore possibilities for using creative writing to work toward transformation and change. We will explore ideas of social justice and participate in activities to engage your creativity.

This workshop will be provided by 8 time Prix Aurora Award winning writer, editor, activist, and author Derek Newman-Stille. Derek is a queer, nonbinary, disabled PhD student and instructor at Trent University. They teach various courses related to social justice for the departments of Women & Gender Studies, Canadian Studies, and English Literature and co-hosted by the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies.

There are limited spaces available, so sign up at

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/creative-writing-for-social-justice-workshop-tickets-111378712728https://www.eventbrite.com/e/creative-writing-for-social-justice-workshop-tickets-111378712728

On The MacGuffin and Exponential Growth Economies

By Derek Newman-Stille

For folks who are unfamiliar with the term, a “MacGuffin” is an object, a device, an event, or a character used in fiction as a plot device to advance the story that is unfolding. We see MacGuffins regularly in speculative fiction, whether it be the Infinity Gauntlet, the Death Star, the One Ring, or the Ark of the Covenant, and these objects serve to push the plot of the story.

However, there is a tendency, particularly in serialized stories, television shows, or movies toward a perceived need to create a bigger and bigger MacGuffin for each book/season/film. Jurassic World even self-consciously referenced this when characters commented on people needing a bigger and more advanced dinosaur to draw them to the park. The idea is that people want to see something bigger and better for the next instalment of their story. They expect characters to “level up” from one story to the next and perceive them as needing a bigger challenge.

I will use Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an example:

Season 1 “Big Bad”: A vampire

Season 2 “Big Bad”: A vampire Buffy loves

Season 3 “Big Bad”: A mayor who becomes a demon and a vampire slayer who has turned evil

Season 4 “Big Bad”: A demon/cyborg hybrid and a secret military organization

Season 5 “Big Bad”: A demon goddess

Season 6 “Big Bad”: A witch turned evil

Season 7 “Big Bad”: The First Evil

Each season requires something bigger to follow it in order to keep the audience’s attention.

This pattern isn’t coming from out of nowhere. It reflects a pattern in our society. Our economic system is one that requires constant growth. The perception is that every company needs to keep growing and expanding. Anything that maintains a pattern and doesn’t grow is perceived to be a failure. This pattern affects the way we view anything that doesn’t continue to grow and expand and we perceive anything that doesn’t expand as stagnant and failing. Even in our own lives, we are expected to constantly grow from our jobs and once we find one that doesn’t let us continue growing, we perceive it as stagnating us and we need to move to something else. This type of continual expansion isn’t feasible. Eventually we reach limits and pushing further can often cause collapse.

The problem with this bigger and bigger MacGuffin per season is that it tends to eventually end. Eventually, it is impossible to get bigger. Eventually the plot devices also become sillier and sillier and lose their impact. The weapon that can kill a person becomes the weapon that can destroy a city, becomes the weapon that can destroy a country, becomes the weapon that can destroy a planet, becomes the… you get the pattern. As the MacGuffins and the characters become more and more powerful, the story loses its human component. It becomes further separated from something the audience can identify with.

Exponential growth isn’t possible. Eventually everything starts to reach its boundaries and can’t grow further.

Is it possible for us to continue telling a story without requiring a bigger and bigger MacGuffin? Yes, but that pattern would need to be set early on and growth would have to be challenged in the series. Does the narrator need to keep becoming stronger? Or can they develop and change in different ways? Can they have life happen without getting “better”? Does the danger they face need to get stronger, or can it change? Can each threat bring out something new in the narrator?

I don’t think a bigger MacGuffin is always the way to keep a story going. It isn’t powerful writing to resort to only one aspect of the story changing. There are so many other parts of the story that can change without having one plot device grow exponentially.


Editorial by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

A Theory of The Self

A review of Dionne Brand’s Theory (Knopf, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Dionne Brand’s Theory is theory given life, a speculation about the nature of beauty, thought, and social interaction. Focussing on a graduate student nearing the end of their dissertation, Theory takes us into the conflicted world of emotion and intellect, exploring the way that passion and dispassionate investigation collide.

Brand’s unnamed narrator, only referred to as Teoria (Theory) by one of her girlfriends, finds herself at odds with the social world, always observing it from a distance and finding herself flabbergasted at the complexities of human interaction. It is through her relationships rather than her analyses of texts that she engages in social consciousness and stretches herself beyond the conventional world she was born into. The narrator positions herself in conflict with conventions and norms, but constantly finds herself drawn into them, facing her own ordinariness no matter how much she tries to push away from it. She is a haunted character, constantly dragging along the baggage of having no baggage and wishing she had a more complex life.

Brand’s narrator is chimerical, constantly changing to reflect her environment and her partners. Yet this changeable, uncertain quality allows the reader to reflect on the fluidity of our experiences and the permeability of identity. We are creatures of change and perhaps it is our changeability that defines us more than any presumed identity or selfhood.

Although the narrator fancies herself a creature of the mind and intellect and reason, someone who eschews the occult, she is haunted by the spectre of her last partner, Odalys, who is an occult priestess. Odalys defies the start realism of the narrator, never appearing by accident even when she appears in dreams. She offers insights that the narrator isn’t ready for and that she rejects primarily because they offer too much insight, too much knowledge. Part of Odalys’ ritual practice involves the presence of Nkisi, dolls made to include nails and blades, and this figure takes on a revelatory light for the narrator, making her face her own erasure of Odalys’ world even while the narrator writes her dissertation that focussed on social erasures, absences, and voices repressed. Odalys and her Nkisi take on the function of everything that the narrator is repressing, knowledges that she rejects even as she writes about the need to include silenced perspectives of marginalized people.

Brand’s Theory is an exploration of absences, of communities lost, and of a narrator who seeks insights into the world even as she ignores insights into herself that are offered by the women she dates. Though obsessed with figuring herself out, she rejects knowledges and perspectives that confront her own.

To find out more about Dionne Brand, visit https://www.uoguelph.ca/arts/sets/people/dionne-brand

To discover more about Theory, visit https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/564847/theory-by-dionne-brand/9780735274259


Review by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

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