It’s lovely news to hear my most recent book, Has the World Ended Yet?, made the long shortlist for the ReLit Award. Some of you may remember my first book, Please, won a ReLit Award back in… well, let’s just say Life Before the Pandemic.
I’ve been lucky enough to win a few writing prizes over the years, and they’ve all seemed to come just when I was ready to give up on writing altogether. Most writers will recognize that feeling — it’s a lonely affair at the best of times, and self-doubt and imposter syndrome comes with the territory. So it’s nice to get that validation from strangers sometimes that maybe someone out there actually does like your writing.
The ReLit is one of my favourite awards even though there’s no money involved. The prize is a ring made of moveable dials engraved with letters, so that you can spell words with it. It is a lovely little fetish object and the perfect award for a writer. Even though I won it many years ago, it’s still on my writing desk today.
Not only is the ReLit Ring a beautiful creation, it is also a frequent and much valued reminder to myself that other people do care about what I write. Sometimes you need that reminder while staring at the blank screen, wondering what to do with these obstinate characters who refuse to tell you what they want. Sometimes that reminder is enough of a writing prompt that I continue to write when I feel like giving up, and I press on and get through the day until I finish the story or book or whatever mad experiment it is I’m working upon. The ReLit Ring was a prize for a book I had already published, but it’s helped me to write many other stories, and for that I will always be grateful.
Plus, I get to write secret messages to myself with it!
Learn more about the ReLit Ring and the ReLit Awards here: http://www.relitawards.com
(I know not everyone has a spare magic ring sitting around to throw at their favourite writers, but a good review works wonders as well. Please consider making a writer’s day by writing a review for a book you’ve enjoyed. Any writer — this isn’t about me. Trust me when I say it will make a difference.)
I had the opportunity to talk with James McCann of the Richmond Public Library about Dungeons and Dragons and the creative process, and it was probably the most fun I’ve had during the pandemic. D&D has always been a big part of my life and probably one of the reasons I became a writer — if you can handle creating a D&D campaign, you can probably write a novel or at least a short story! Check out the video interview where we talk about the magic of writing, world building, and why I secretly want to be a necromancer. Also, we come up with the idea for a Beholder Ranch adventure! It’s all fun and games until something kills you with a magic eye….
The end of the world is now 30% off! My publisher Wolsak & Wynn is holding an apocalyptically good sale on my book Has the World Ended Yet? and other of their fine titles. Check out these terrifying tales of retired superheroes vs. mysterious angels, travelling deity salesmen, Craigslist miracles, demon investigators and more before the world ends (or Halloween, whichever comes first)! (Use the code “TREAT” at checkout or visit the usual haunts.) https://bookstore.wolsakandwynn.ca/collections/fiction/products/has-the-world-ended-yet
I’m always delighted to see a new issue of Taddle Creek mysteriously appear in my driveway, and this work of art is no exception. I particularly like the letter to the editor about my story “Starseed,” published in an earlier edition of Taddle Creek. I’m no stranger to letters to the editor thanks to my previous career in the media, but this was an interesting change from the usual accusations of being a left/right wing shill for Big Publishing/indie anarchists.
Late last year, Taddle Creek, in quick succession, received possibly the two greatest letters ever to grace its e-mailbox. Both were from Kieran Dunn, of Guelph, Ontario, who wrote: “I have just finished reading ‘Starseed,’ by Peter Darbyshire, in the summer issue of Taddle Creek (No. 43). I was perplexed by the following passage: ‘The interior of that starship was indescribable by the likes of me. Perhaps Gernsback and his fellow science fictioneers could manage it, but it is beyond me.’ While I appreciate the homage in this ‘celebration of the . . . pulp magazine,’ I have to wonder when this story is meant to take place. The Battle of the Somme, the concluding event in the story, was fought in 1916. Amazing Stories, Hugo Gernsback’s first foray into what we now call science fiction, was not founded until 1926. It seems unlikely that the narrator, Archimedes Death, would be writing later than 1926 and, thus, unlikely he would refer to Hugo Gernsback as a ‘science fictioneer.’ I would be interested to hear your take on this.”
Read the full letter here at Taddle Creek, including my response. I like the way Kieran Dunn’s mind works!
And if you want to support Taddle Creek putting more beautiful ephemera into the world, there’s always the subscribe option!
Ten years ago I published The Warhol Gang with HarperCollins, a dystopian tale of neuromarketing gone awry, viral murder videos, professional insurance fraudsters, an underground resistance to a mutated mall culture, rampaging office co-workers and more. At the time, I worked at one of the larger daily newspapers in Canada, and I was trying to reflect the strange stories I saw trending online — I was trying to write the headlines of tomorrow.
I have to admit I never saw 2020 coming.
So now The Warhol Gang is a quaint little alternate history, where malls are still open (albeit under attack by that underground resistance), people still gather in groups without face masks and murder hornets have not yet come swarming over the horizon. I think I did all right with the Gun World storyline, though….
Anyway, it’s still available for sale as far as I know if you’re looking for a little escapist fantasy reading.
If you’re more interested in contemporary fiction about current events, please check out Has the World Ended Yet?, my latest book. It’s pretty strange. But admittedly not as strange as 2020.
Self-isolating at home during the coronavirus pandemic? Finished watching every single show on Netflix? Built your survival fort out of toilet paper and dried pasta? Remember when any of those things would have seemed strange just a few weeks ago?
Maybe it’s time to hunker down and ignore the zombies and asteroid storms and alien saucers outside with a good read. Here’s a quick list of some of my works you can read for free online. Finish them all and you’ll open the Seventh Seal! Do it quick before the Fifth Horseman arrives!
- Has the World Ended Yet? Well, it’s getting there. In the meantime, an excerpt from my most recent published book. (I’ve written others, but it’s hard to find the time to publish them when I’m fighting off tentacled zombies on my doorstep. Always with the procrastination and excuses….)
- Starseed: Or, The Strange Transformation of Archimedes Death. A mysterious and dark superhero in the First World War! A super scientist determined to learn the truth! Mechanical alien spiders! Trench warfare! No plagues!
- The Angel Azrael Rode Into the Town of Burnt Church on a Dead Horse. The first in my series of stories about the angel gunslinger Azrael.
- The Angel Azrael Delivers Small Mercies. “Mercy” is a loaded word when you’re an angel gunslinger.
- The Angel Azrael Delivers Justice to the People of the Dust. “Justice” is also a loaded word when you’re an angel gunslinger.
- The Princess Trap. A sheepherder and a dragon come to an arrangement of sorts. Hapless knights pay the price.
- We Are All Ghosts. My first (and only) Lovecraftian superhero apocalypse story! An updated version of this appears in Has the World Ended Yet?, my latest book.
- We Are a Rupture That Cannot Be Contained. Ghosts erupt out of pipelines and the world ends. Hey, the price of gas is low right now! An updated version of this appears in Has the World Ended Yet?, my latest book.
- We Continue to Pray for Something to End Our Prayers. Gotta say, this isn’t the way I expected the world to end. An updated version of this appears in Has the World Ended Yet?, my latest book.
Literary or some such genre
I was really looking forward to seeing the dance adaptation of Christian Bok’s Eunoia at the Firehall this May, but that won’t be happening now because of the COVID-19 crisis. I donated the value of my tickets to the arts centre rather than ask for a refund. Please consider doing the same for any shows you bought tickets for that have now been cancelled. We will need the arts even more once this crisis has passed, and your donation may make the difference to the survival of arts venues and artists in your community.
This seems like a good time to remind people you can read an excerpt of my latest book, Has the World Ended Yet?, for free online, courtesy of my publisher Wolsak and Wynn.
Titan is the first person in the world to see the angels. He’s drinking his morning coffee at the kitchen table and watching the house across the street when they start falling from the sky. The house across the street looks just like his house. Every house on the street looks just like his house. The only things that are different are the colours of the front doors. He got lost the first few times he drove home after moving here. He never got lost returning to the Hero Hall. He could still find the Hero Hall today if they called him back. He sometimes wonders if that will ever happen, even though he knows it won’t.
Back at the beginning of 2019, I decided to take a break from drinking alcohol. I didn’t have a bad New Year’s Eve that ended with me waking up in a foreign country or a disastrous Christmas where I found myself naked and covered in ornaments or anything like that. No, I just wanted to get healthier.
I’d found for the past few years that drinking was just taking too much of a toll on my mind and body as I grew older. The odd hangover when I drank too much had turned into headaches whenever I drank anything at all. I developed strange heart palpitations that my doctor said were probably caused by alcohol. I was getting bloated and uncomfortably heavy. I was frustrated with my constant mood swings. I wasted way too much time on drunken midnight descents into 1990s concerts on YouTube.
As the father of a couple of young boys, I worried about the toll of all this and something happening to me that deprived them of a functional father, or a father at all. Leave aside for the moment they were often the reason I drank….
So I decided to try to stop drinking again, at least until I could shed some weight and get healthier. I’d tried a few times in the past and been reasonably successful — I’d gone a few months here, six months there, etc. But there was always some social event or another where I felt it was time to take a drink, and then the cycle started up again.
This time I decided to try out a new app I’d read about on reddit’s Stop Drinking subreddit: NoMo. I downloaded it in early January and started using it, and I 100% credit my year of sobriety to the app.
It has a number of features that are useful. One I quite like is you can track how much money you are saving. Simply check your bank statements to see how much you spent on booze the year before, enter that number into the app, and it’ll tell you how much money you’ve saved each day by not drinking. I’ve saved the price of a holiday trip to another country in one year — that’s right, I was drinking away a vacation each year.
You can also connect with other people for support and that sort of thing, if that’s what works for you. I’m more independent myself, but do whatever works for you.
The feature that works best for me is the app keeps track of your sobriety streak — how many days you’ve gone without a drink. That alone is the thing that has stopped me from drinking many times over the past year. There’s always been some occasion or another where I’ve been at a party or event where there’s a table of open booze bottles, and the thing that’s stopped me from drinking is that streak. I’ve actually pulled out my phone, checked my app and thought, “Nah, I don’t want to break my streak of 157 days of no drinking just to have a beer or shot of rum.”
The effectiveness of this really struck home with me when I was on holiday in Iceland with some friends a few months back. We were staying in a hotel that had an executive lounge that offered free booze every night — good, expensive booze! What better excuse to have a drink — I’m on holiday in Iceland, and they’re giving away excellent drinks for free. I can just take a short break from sobriety and have some fun! I didn’t, though. I didn’t want to break that streak on the app. And I honestly didn’t want to have a drink, either. I liked the way I felt sober and I continue to like the way I feel sober. So I passed and went to bed early and got up early the next day and wandered Reykjavik and went for hikes and had a lovely, inspiring time that I still remember.
I’m not one to be an evangelist about sobriety or anything else. But I’ve been open about my reasons for not drinking and I’ve been pleased with the changes over the last year — I lost 35 pounds, I’m more fit, I’m happier and more level, and I feel I’m much better equipped to deal with stress. Many people have asked me about my experiences and what’s been working for me. It’s clear a number of my friends and acquaintances have their own struggles with alcohol and are thinking about taking a break. So I thought I’d mention the app and my own experiences here for those who are interested.
After all, it’s the start of a new year. What better time to transform yourself into that person you want to be?
Stay strong and have compassion for others but most of all yourself.
It’s the end of another year, and I hope you achieved all your goals and had some surprising accomplishments that you never could have predicted at the end of last year. I hope you have gratitude for all the good things that happened or came your way. If it was a hard year for you, I hope you take comfort in simply surviving and acknowledge your strength and resilience. Sometimes it takes all we have within us to survive.
I have 20 wishes for you in 2020. Add or delete as you will to make your own personalized list.
- May you find/continue the love that you deserve — even if it is simply love for yourself. That is often the hardest love of all to discover.
- May you do that thing you’ve always dreamed of doing. Time will not wait for you, so why wait for time?
- May you discover something that changes your world and helps you find a better, more positive place in the universe. Therapy, spirituality, kink, travel, creativity, photography, meditation, parenting, whatever it is, I hope your journey takes you to new and better places within yourself this coming year.
- May you create. Create art, create life, create political change, create a new startup. Make something new that didn’t exist before, that only you could create.
- May you be compassionate with others. We are all struggling with things no one but us can see. Remember that when thinking about others, be they family, friends, co-workers or strangers.
- May you be compassionate toward yourself. We are our own harshest critics and never stop judging ourselves. We never forgive ourselves for things we have done that no one else even remembers, let alone cares about. Recognize you are human and every moment has been a learning experience to get you where you are now. Forgive yourself. Heal yourself. Love yourself.
- May you love others. Life is too short to get lost in judgement, anxiety, competition, envy, jealousy, all those things we feel toward others when our own life fails to meet our expectations. Love each and every one of us for the random, impossible miracles we are in this universe.
- May you read a good book. May you read many good books. A life without reading is like a life without colour. You can live such a life, but do you even know what you are missing?
- May you say yes to everything that comes your way. It is easy to say no, but what change happens when you don’t try something new? Say yes for a year and see how it transforms you.
- May you say no to everything that comes your way. It is easy to say yes to everything, but you can become lost in other people’s issues. What space can you make for yourself and your dreams by saying no? Say no for a year and see how it transforms you.
- May you let go of things that no longer serve you — those household items in storage, friendships that have become toxic or at least not inspiring or uplifting, relationships where you no longer recognize each other or help each other to become better people, jobs that have become work instead of a calling. Those things served a purpose in your life and brought you to where you are. But sometimes things can drag you down if you don’t let go of them. If something no longer serves you in any meaningful way, perhaps it is time to let go of it without having to let go of the love you once had for it.
- May you think about death. We are all dying every day and we try not to think about it. We should not be concerned about death. It is the most natural thing of all, more natural than life even. Contemplate death, for thinking about death will surely change the way you think about life.
- May you think about life and what sort of life you truly want to live before death. You only have one life (in this body and mind, anyway). Live it like you want to live it because one day there will be no later for you.
- May you care for yourself. Watch Netflix. Read. Sleep. Go to the movies. Go to the spa. Ask to spend more time with friends. Meditate. Exercise. Buy things for yourself you wouldn’t normally buy. We spend so much time in life looking after others that we often forget to look after ourselves. Look after yourself.
- May you change something about yourself. Life is transformation and change, from the moment we are born to our dying breath. If you are not changing, you are not really living. Embrace change. Embrace life.
- May you see the magic in life. We live on a rock spinning through the cold nothingness of space, just near enough and far away enough from a dying star that we may exist, but that star is itself just a speck of light in a vast universe that we know next to nothing about. Every second of life for all of us has been and always will be a miracle with no clear origin, an act of magic that seems to have been generated by the uncaring and unknowable universe itself. To see that shouldn’t invoke nihilism or existentialism but instead should inspire joy and wonder. Against all odds, and for no reason at all, we are here. For a brief split second in time, we exist when there was nothing before. What else is that but magic?
- May your every action be meaningful this year. We spend so much time doing nothing but wasting time — reading celebrity gossip, following the arguments of strangers on Twitter, watching viral videos about someone else’s misfortune. Imagine what your life would be if instead you spent that time in meaningful pursuits — learning new information or teaching yourself a new skill or improving your fitness or creating a new artistic project. Where would you be in a year’s time if you did this for yourself?
- May you discover wonder again. As we grow older, we often become cynical, judgemental and skeptical. Try to remember what it was like to view the world as a child and bring back that sense of wonder again. The world is a rich, complex and wondrous place. View it as such and discover the wonder in yourself again.
- May you learn to be comfortable with yourself. We see ourselves through the lens of others and find value in our lives by imagining how others perceive us. What if you were stranded for the rest of your life on an island with no other people? What if you were the last person left alive on the earth? What if there was no one else but you? How would you live a meaningful life then? Imagine a life that would make you happy in those circumstances and then live it in our actual, present world.
- May you find the courage to do the things you once found impossible, because everything is possible at the start of a new year.