Skating on the Thin Ice of Sports Masculinity

A review of Claire Humphrey’s “Number One Draft Pick” in The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound (Laksa Media Group, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Speculative Fiction stories about hockey are relatively rare in English Canada, although Amy Ransom has illustrated that they are a popular motif in Quebecois SF. That makes Claire Humphrey’s “Number One Draft Pick” a rare treat, particularly since it deals with the complexities of hockey culture and its complex relationship to gender and disability. 

Humphrey’s story explores hockey culture from the outside, examining it from the perspective of a care-giver who is providing support to a hockey player with a disability. Reshma is the trainer for a service dog named Zuzu, whose specialization is sensing the onset of seizures. In this near-future fiction story, Zuzu’s abilities are augmented by a collar that assists her in monitoring the health of her human. 

Sports masculinity tends to be hostile to the idea of disability, viewing athletes with disabilities as less capable, and often as somewhat feminized, particularly when the require the use of care-givers. Sports masculinity is about hyper ability. Although a team sport, hockey, like many sports, relies on the idea that athleticism is a product of individualism, an independence that pretends that the star athlete has accomplished everything on their own. The idea of needing care and support can disrupt this illusion. Humphrey explores this in her story by examining the complex secrecy around hockey star Ty’s disability. The hockey association wants to keep Ty’s disability a secret, projecting him as a star that doesn’t need support, and even his team engages in the complex veil of secrecy, pretending that they don’t know about Ty’s seizures even when they have witnessed them. Secrecy is part of the cohesiveness of the team and the maintenance of the team’s sense of sports masculinity, willfully ignoring anything that doesn’t match their ideas of ability.

“Number One Draft Pick” simultaneously places women in nurturing and supporting roles and men in active sports roles while also pointing out that this dichotomy is totally artificial and that the gendered reactions around sports are social constructs, created by the team and their supports to model the idea of the independent athletic hero. Humphrey uses science fiction and disability to complicate sports masculinity, pointing out the complexities in the construction of athleticism and its relationship to the body. 

To discover more about Clare Humphrey’s work, visit

To find out more about The Sum of Us, visit the Laksa Media Group website at

Small Town Ontario Bodies

A review of Jeff Lemire’s Essex County (Top Shelf Productions, 2009)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Jeff Lemire’s Essex County provides a fascinating look into small town Ontario life. Rather than just fixating on the lives of the young in this coming-of-age narrative, Lemire explores the multiple times in our lives that we come-of-age and expresses the idea that we are constantly coming of age as we change and our social and bodily circumstances change. 
Lemire explores ideas of escape and settlement in small town Ontario life illustrating the way that home is something that constantly shifts and changes and is something that is made up as much of relationships to others and to traditions as it is about a physical space. Lemire complicates notions of home, portraying his characters as constantly trying to fit in but also feeling a sense of longing when they leave. 
Lemire’s exploration is about the people in Essex County, but it is also about their bodies since many of the characters become disabled at different points in the narrative, shifting their understandings of their own bodies and their bodily identities. As bodies change and shift, relationships are also altered and changed, pointing out the ways that our bodies are complicit in our understanding of our world. 
The graphic novel format of Essex County brings attention to the ways that bodies occupy spaces and the absence that they leave in the spaces they cease to occupy. 
To discover more about Essex County visit Top Shelf Productions at

To find out more about Jeff Lemire, visit his website at 

Hockey 30 Days of Night in Canada

A Review of Sudden Death Overtime by Steve Vernon (Crossroad Press, 2012)

By Derek Newman-Stille

In his Sudden Death Overtime, Steve Vernon creates an unusual cast of characters in an epic battle on and off the ice. Vernon takes a group of old Newfoundland hockey players from a small, one-pub town and faces them against an encroaching threat of outsiders. These outsiders are not just non-Newfoundlanders, they aren’t even human. What better way to deal with vampires (known for their teeth) than to face them against old hockey players (known for their absence of teeth)?

Vernon sets his book in a town where it seems like everything is being lost: people moving away, families being broken down, and the population beset with disappointment and boredom. The town is being sucked dry by outsiders, and then, enter the vampire, literally praying on the population. Vernon does a great job of setting the scene of a depressed town, but his sense of humour lifts his reader above the ice of crushing depression, often combining both humour with sobering pain and sympathy in one sentence: “The time passed as slowly as a year of chronic constipation.” Vernon’s writing is sanguine in both senses of the word: both good and bloody.

Sudden Death Overtime captures the action and excitement of a hockey game, bringing to life the movement and power of the game as well as the masculine power play and the taunts on ice that any hockey player knows all too well. Vampires become an extension of the ice, something to be conquered by the game. Their teeth are “icicle-long and winter sharp” and they melt like slush when conquered by some supernatural stick-handling.

Steve Vernon’s protagonists, veering away from the traditional descriptions of the old, are not weak, old, powerless men, but are rather better equipped than others to deal with the dead: “They’re a pack of bloodthirsty creatures from beyond the grave… who in the hell better to fight them than a pack of old farts with one foot in the grave?” The icy fingers of death meet the icy cold of the good ol’ hockey game.

You can purchase Sudden Death Overtime for your Kindle at and you can check out more of Steve Vernon’s work at

Interview with Steve Vernon

Steve Vernon with a beaver… so Canadian!!

An Interview with Steve Vernon About Himself and His Recent Novella Sudden Death Overtime

By Derek Newman-Stille

It is always a great opportunity to be able to do an interview of an author about a specific work and I want to thank Mr. Vernon for allowing me to interview him and for giving the readers some insights into himself and into his recent novella Sudden Death Overtime. Steve Vernon is a Nova Scotia author/ mythographer who writes everything from the supernatural, young adult fiction, to myths of Canada’s East Coast. His sense of humour carries through even into the interview process and he was a delight to chat with.

Spec Can: First, can you give us a quick description of yourself?

Steve Vernon: Well – if there are any wrestling fans out there I look a little like Mick Foley – also known as Mankind, Brother Love and Cactus Jack. I also look a little like Jeff Bridges – particularly in his CRAZY HEART role.

Spec Can: What are some of the biggest influences on your writing?

Steve Vernon: Mostly, bills. The sad truth is I write for money. The sad part of that is that there often isn’t a lot of money to be made from writing – but I was born with an obsession to string words together on paper. It would have been a lot easier if I was born with an obsession to pick at people’s teeth – in which case I could have become a dentist and made a lot more money.

Spec Can: Where does your inspiration come from?

Steve Vernon: Would you laugh at me if I said more bills?

All kidding aside – I learned how to tell stories early in life. I learned partly from my grandparents who constantly told stories. I mean – when you get right down to it this is pretty well what most people do with their lives. We eat and we breathe and we tell stories. It’s just that I seemed to take to the whole storytelling practice a little more readily than some of the more normal kids.

But who in the hell wants to be normal?

I think I tell stories out of a desire to find order and meaning in life. I know that I tell stories in order to make my words better heard upon the planet. I tell stories to share my experience and to share my imagination and sense of creativity.

So what inspires me?

Life, mostly, and a deep-rooted desire to find the heroic element that hides within us all.

Spec Can: How much does your Canadian identity influence your writing?

Steve Vernon:  We Canadians are champion diehard storytellers. I mean take a look at our winters. Take a look at our television network. Take a look at our mosquitoes. What else have we got to do but to tell stories to each other?

In some ways my Canadian identity limits me – in that it is harder to find my place in the international market. But my Canadian identity helps make me the writer that I am today. Remember – I have a half dozen regional books out at this moment from Nimbus Publishing – Nova Scotia’s largest publishing network. I am also close to signing a contract with another new Canadian publisher for a series of YA horror novels. My regional books have sold in the thousands – which makes me a bestselling author in Canada.

So – like any fact of life – the fact that I am Canadian of birth is both a gift and a hinderance.

Spec Can: What do you think is distinctly Nova Scotian about your writing?

Steve Vernon: Nova Scotians are the true storytellers of Canada.

We have an even worse selection in television, bigger mosquitos, and less opportunity for honest work. Again I ask you what else can we do but sit around and spin out yarns?

Spec Can: Can you tell us a bit about your new ebook novelette Sudden Death Overtime?

Steve Vernon: Sudden Death Overtime is a fast and fun read. It asks the question – what would a bunch of over-the-hill hockey playing old farts from Northern Labrador do against a tour bus full of vampires.  It is a book that takes two of my favorite movies – Slapshot and 30 Days of Night – and combines them into one powerful yarn.

This isn’t high literature, you understand. This little novella is a pint of good cold beer and a cheeseburger.

Spec Can: Where did you get the idea to write Sudden Death Overtime?

Steve Vernon: I wanted to sit down and write a B movie – but I’m too lazy to learn proper screenplay format – so I decided to just sit down and write something that would entertain both my reading public and myself – just as much as a good solid B monster movie – such as Tremors or The Lost Boys or Fright Night or 30 Days of Night does.

Spec Can: What got you interested in intersecting hockey and vampires?

Steve Vernon: I’ve long been fascinated with seeing how ordinary people deal with the face of evil. That’s who my favorite characters are – just regular downhome kind of people. I like to imagine them brave and wild and romantic and full of life – because we all have that potential buried deep inside ourselves. So – when I sat down to write Sudden Death Overtime I just took the toughest people I had ever dreamed of and threw them up against the forces of darkness.

Spec Can: Why hockey?

Steve Vernon: Why not? What is more Canadian than a pack of old-timers strapping on skates for a set-to on the open ice?

Spec Can: What vampire mythologies or ideas about the vampire are you drawing on in Sudden Death Overtime?

Steve Vernon: These vampires are nasty. They don’t glitter and they don’t spout purple poetry. I don’t go a great deal into their origins or motivation. To me, evil is a force that must be dealt with. Asking where the evil came from is about as useful as trying to decide who farted in the crowded clubroom.

Spec Can: You have written about monsters before. What got you interested in looking at monsters?

Steve Vernon: I’m a kid at heart. Never plan to grow up. And deep down all of us kids think monsters are freaking cool. One of the first books my grandmother ever handed me was a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I read it, cover to cover. I also loved to stay up once a month on Friday nights and watch FRIGHT NIGHT – which was our local station’s all-night monster movie bonanza.

Basically, I have a deep-seated respect and love for old-school booga-booga.

Spec Can: What can horror and comedy contribute to each other? What is the virtue of a book that intertwines them?

Steve Vernon: There isn’t a whole lot of difference between an eek and a giggle. The muscles that control the two of them are connected to the exact same neurological synapses.  Whether we are shrieking in terror or having an orgasm of passionate pleasure or laughing out loud at the world’s gnarliest knock-knock joke it all springs from the same part of our existence – the need to blurt out. We all are born with this need. When we’re babies we’ve got no problem expressing ourselves this way but as we get older we get a little hidebound. We learn manners and dignity and control. We start following the rules.

A good giggle or a good scare helps us break out of the constraints that society and our desire to fit in imposes upon us.

Spec Can: People are often critical of the novelette, can you tell us a bit about why you chose this format?

Steve Vernon: My pants keep getting tighter. I have to watch what I eat. I have to start chewing on more vegetables and less cheeseburgers.

A novelette is a perfect little snack. You can read it in a single gulp without suffering from the over-bloat of too many high-caloric syllables.

Bruce Lee used to talk about the power of a three inch punch. You want to think about a hand grenade and how it doesn’t have to be all that big to make a fine satisfying explosion.

I like the novella format. Some of the best reads I’ve ever enjoyed were stories that I could chew up in a single sitting. I think there are a lot of books out there that could do with some pruning and fine-tuning. Mind you, I have written several longer works as well. My novel TATTERDEMON – which deals in the wildest kind of scary reanimated scarecrows you have ever encountered is nearly 100,000 words in length.

In the end – there are no rules in storytelling – beyond the simple and basic truth – ABOVE ALL ELSE DO NOT BORE!!!

Spec Can: Can you tell us a bit about why you chose to write Sudden Death Overtime as an e-book?

Steve Vernon: I feel that e-books are going to play a very large part in our reading future and – as a writer with a keen interest in paying my bills – I want to get involved in digital books just as whole-heartedly as possible.

E-books aren’t necessarily going to replace traditionally published books too quickly. But they are here and they are an undeniable reality and there is a seething horde of technologically oriented readers out there who are already becoming addicted to the e-reading experience.

I maintain that a writer who refuses to acknowledge, accept and embrace this new technological phenomena is a damn fool.

I didn’t always feel this way. Not too many years ago I believed that e-books were a freak creation that wouldn’t last. Now I see differently.

Any writer who has found any form of success has doubtless learned to revise their work. Likewise, we – as writers – must revise our thinking periodically and be prepared to ride this wave where ever it takes us.

Hopefully, towards more readers.

Spec Can: What can writing about monsters like the vampire teach your audience? What ideas can it get them thinking about?

Steve Vernon: Hell, do you mean I’m supposed to be teaching people? I guess, if you wanted me to stick my proper pinky finger out I could tell you that monster stories help instill the belief that the human spirit can will out and triumph over the power of evil.

However, at the end of the day what I’m writing here is nothing more than stories. They are meant to be enjoyed. They’re fun, nothing deeper and nothing more significant. All joking about bills and money aside all I really ever want to hear about is somebody grinning so hard that they’re afraid they might break their teeth and saying those wonderful words – “Damn, that was one fine old story!”

I want to once again thank  Steve Vernon for this incredible opportunity and for sharing his great sense of humour with me and with the Speculating Canada audience. To find out more about Steve’s current projects, check out his site at

I will be posting a review of Sudden Death Overtime this Wednesday August 8th for you to explore. You can buy Sudden Death Overtime on at