Category Archives: Shrapnel

Bookninja strikes again


If you like your daily literary and culture news with a twist of the knife, Bookninja is back.

Some of you may remember when George Murray and I started up Bookninja many years ago to talk books on a more or less daily basis. I eventually left to focus on my own writing and because I had kids. Who has the time to do anything on a daily basis when you’re a parent? George grew Bookninja to global infamy on his own before he shut it down himself to also concentrate on his own life. His kids must be grown up now or something, because he’s started up Bookninja again.

Here are George’s comments on the resurrection of the ninja:

Over the last couple years, though, I realized that the unmitigated dumpster-fire known as “The Literary World” had driven me completely underground. I could barely read the news, much less comment on it. I hate living like that.

Recently I realized that when my kids ask me what to do when they feel out of place or under siege by life, I say things like: “Well, then create your own space” and “Time to sally forth with your troops and break the siege.” Which kind of makes me a hypocrite for hiding for seven years.

Further, I feel like I was always out of the loop in terms of what’s happening in the world. Bookninja gave me a chance to go out and seek out daily news that I was interested in.

So, this is me not being a hypocrite anymore. And me trying to “get out” more.

Give Bookninja a follow if you haven’t already. I think you’ll like it. Maybe if enough people start reading it George will make more comics.


If you like the end of the world, you’ll also love lost cosmonauts

I just recently discovered the work of Jeremy Geddes, which is so in synch with my latest book, Has the World Ended Yet?, that it could have been the cover artwork. (Although I do love the cover artwork it already has!) Geddes’ art feels like it’s invoking the same space as my stories “Has the World Ended Yet?” or “First Contacts” — particularly the latter story. (If you’ve read it, you’ll understand why.)

Anyway, I love these paintings and I wanted to share them.

If you like Geddes’ art, he has a store.


I wish it were fiction

A few years back, I wrote The Warhol Gang, which featured gun theme parks, viral shooting videos and rampaging shooter drills – among other things. At the time, I worried that maybe I was overdoing it a little, that readers would find it unbelievable. I never truly imagined a world where we’d be watching livestreams of school massacres, a world where people argue it’s their human right to own weapons of war intended for no other purpose than killing large numbers of fellow human beings quickly. We now live in a strange, broken and disintegrating reality where school children go on nationally televised livestreams to beg for their right to live and their leaders refuse them that simple request – or attack them with bizarre conspiracy theories that the children are not really children, that they are crisis actors. Imagine being told that you do not exist because someone else has fantasies that they are some sort of weekend Rambo.

It’s mainly an American problem, but it’s not contained there. Madness, fear and anxiety know no borders. I recently asked my oldest son what he had done at school that day and he told me his class had a hiding drill, where he hid in his cubby in case a gunman attacked the school. A six-year-old boy learning how to hide from a gunman because people want to own weapons of war.

I wish it were fiction.

I wish people found this unbelievable instead of acceptable.

A target of

After each mass shooting happens, I usually find myself looking for solace in art. I look for creation in the world rather than destruction. I saw this in my feeds and it spoke to me, although I wouldn’t exactly call it solace:

Kathy Fish comments on the writing of Collective Nouns at her site. You can also find it online at Jellyfish Review.

Now we wait for the next one.


A bit of writing, a bit of assassination

It was a busy weekend of writing in old Apocalypse HQ! I finished the rough draft of a new Cross short story, and it was a fun ride. I’ve now got around 35,000 words in Cross stories – maybe the next book will be a story collection!

I also finished the rough draft of a new stand-alone holiday story. I’ll let you know more about that when it finds a home.

In other news, Google’s Arts and Culture app thinks I look like former president Gerald Ford. Which is interesting because I just listened to the Radiolab podcast about Oliver Sipple, who saved the life of Ford in an attempted assassination only to have his life ruined by his act of heroism.

Probably a story in there somewhere….

Sex, love and consent in the age of #MeToo

The Walrus has a good article about what sexual consent means in the age of #MeToo. It’s timely for the world of CanLit, too, given all the controversy over UBCAccountable and CanLitAccountable, which have torn Canada’s writing communities apart, if they ever truly existed in the first place.

The article is written by Sarah Barmak, who also wrote the book Closer: Notes From the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality – which should be a must-read for pretty much everyone who’s having sex. It makes a really good point about how we inherit culturally models of consent, which can lead to all sorts of confusion, assumptions and problems – but there are other models out there, as is evident in kink and other communities:

There’s also less of a culturally ordained script that dictates what sex is supposed to look like among lgbtq people, says Johnstone. “There’s the assumption [in conversations about heterosexual sex] that it’s the man who would ask consent, and that’s not the reality that a lot of queer and non-binary folks experience, where consent is negotiated between partners.” Traditional models of heterosexuality have a built-in narrative for how sex is supposed to go: first kissing, then touching and undressing, then oral sex, then vaginal intercourse. (It’s why someone knows what you mean if you talk about “going all the way.”) In a culture that takes that script for granted, it may be easy to assume that one act will lead to another and that when someone consents to one part, they are agreeing to that whole sequence. Absent these presumptions about who will do what to whom, says Johnstone, partners talk more about what will happen, before it happens and throughout a sexual encounter. “It’s not just about saying yes or no,” she says. “It’s yes to what? No to what?”

Many kink and polyamorous communities, by their very nature, also have more nuanced and clearly articulated practices for consent. Parties in which explicit sex takes place often have detailed consent guidelines—especially ones at which bondage takes place, where no doesn’t always mean no, but consent is still paramount. (Some hosts distribute consent menus for guests to fill out, asking them to circle the names of sex acts they’re open to that evening.) It is common at such gatherings to hear that “consent is sexy” and that whips-and-leather bondage in which consent is explicit is safer than “vanilla” sex in which it is assumed.

Check it out and remember: there’s never anything wrong with asking.

Saint Sebastien, who deserves his own TV series

If Sebastien de Castell were a character in his Greatcoats series of fantasy books, he’d be Saint Sebastien Who Pisses Off Other Writers. The saints in his tales are those who are so good at what they do that they transcend being human and become something else entirely – call it divine if you will, but it’s a little more complex than that in de Castell’s universe.

In fact, everything is more complex in de Castell’s tales of travelling magistrates trying to restore order to the failing society of Tristia and the even more failing realm of the gods and saints and all the others that have forsaken the people of the world.

At its heart, this is a series of action books driven by strong plots with plenty of swordplay, witty banter, and more than a few cliffhangers as Greatcoats leader Falcio von Mond and a couple of comrades move through the troubled land trying to restore order but generally causing more chaos in the process. Falcio and company are as compelling as they are entertaining, but every character in the book is multilayered and full of surprises. Nobody is quite what they appear in Tristia, including the lovable narrator Falcio.

The books have their share of winks and nods at Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and Roger Zelazny’s Amber books in their literary style, roguish characters and their textual playfulness (complexity?), although de Castell is clearly striking his own path. They are so skillfully crafted and, well, fun that they feel lighter than they actually are. For every moment of lightness, though, there is a moment of darkness. While the Greatcoats series in some ways pushes back against the grimdark trend in contemporary fantasy, at other times it is more dark than the darkest of grimdark books – not in terms of blood and gore but where the books go psychologically. There is no place darker than the depths of human soul, and de Castell doesn’t hesitate to descend into its depths and strike a match.

As if that’s not enough to satisfy a reader, de Castell layers the books with more intrigue than an Umberto Eco murder mystery set in a papal conclave. Everybody in Tristia has an agenda – the Greatcoats, the knights they so despise, the religious zealots, the gods, even the dead. Just when Falcio thinks he has everything figured out, someone always proves him wrong. And being wrong in de Castell’s world usually leaves our fallen heroes trapped in a dungeon or somewhere even less hospitable. It’s a delight to read because you can never see the next twist coming, even though you know it most definitely is coming.

If action, adventure and intrigue are the lifeblood pumping through the veins of this series, then philosophy is its heart. At the centre of the Greatcoats books is what it means to be good and honourable and just. It’s this interrogation of the soul that makes the book so relevant to modern readers and not just another throwaway tale of some fantasy world or another. It’s a credit to de Castell that he doesn’t provide any easy answers.

Did I say de Castell? I meant Saint Sebastien Who Makes Other Writers Look Like Drunken Peasants. May the gods grant us a fraction of his skill and an even greater fraction of his fortune.

Keep the west weird!

Boy Eating

If you like my angel gunslinger weird westerns, then you may want to check out the Weird Western Story Bundle. It features a few books from my publisher ChiZine, including Kenneth Mark Hoover’s Haxan and Gemma Files’ Hexslinger, which is simply indescribable. Plus there’s a whole bunch of other titles — you can get the whole bundle for $14 right now.

Welcome to our Weird Western Bundle, where wide frontiers, flintlocks, whiskey and revenge meet swords, airships, terraforming, magic, myths, and dragons. You’ll find stories here set in the snows of old Alaska and the heat of contemporary Arizona, post-Civil War San Francisco and post-colonization planets, and places the seem as familiar as any wooded mountain or wind-swept desert… until tigers and dragons and horses that are so much more than you might assume burst into the scene. The different aspects of the Weird Western spirit in this bundle will give fans of the genre something they haven’t seen before, and folks new to Weird Westerns a wide sampling of its fantastic offerings.

If you’re new to the whole Story Bundle concept, here are the basics:

StoryBundle let’s you choose your own price, so you decide how you’d like to support these awesome writers and their work. For $5—or more if you’d like—you’ll receive the basic bundle of four great novels in DRM-free ebook format. For the bonus price of at least $14—or more if you’d like—you’ll receive all nine novels. If you choose, a portion of your payment will go toward supporting Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.

The Weird Western Bundle is available for only three weeks. It’s a great opportunity to pick up the stories of nine wonderful writers, support independent authors who want to twist your assumptions about the West, and discover new writers with great stories along the way. – Blair MacGregor

The initial titles in The Weird Western Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:

  • Haxan by Kenneth Mark Hoover
  • Dead West Vol 1.: West of Pale by J Patrick Allen
  • Idyll by James Derry
  • Spellsinger by Joseph J. Bailey

If you pay more than the bonus price of just $14, you get all four of the regular titles, plus five more:

  • Hexslinger Vol. 1: A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files
  • Horses of the Moon Vol. 1: Dragons in the Earth by Judith Tarr
  • Daughter of the Wildings Book. 1: Beneath the Canyons by Kyra Halland
  • The Flash Gold Chronicles I-III by Lindsay Buroker
  • New World Book 2: Hair of the Bear by Steven W. White


Behold the chimera fish!

A fish caught by Nova Scotia fisherman Scott Tanner is shown in a handout photo. For a brief moment, Tanner thought he might have a case of cabin fever when he spotted a fish with glowing, green eyes in his trawler's net. A curator of zoology at the Museum of Natural History in Halifax, offered a more scientific-based explanation: the bug-eyed creature appears to be a knifenose chimera - one of three chimera species in North Atlantic waters.THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Scott Tanner ORG XMIT: HAL500

Is it any coincidence that horrors from the deep begin to surface just as I publish my new book, The Apocalypse Ark? I think not. Take back your horrors, ocean! (Also, make note of this devil fish for new book.)

See also the mysterious sounds of the sea!

All this and six months of rain, too


So the other day, I wrote a short piece for The Province about a fixer-upper home in Vancouver being listed for $2.4 million. Actually, that’s probably being generous. I don’t think anyone is going to bother fixing one nail on this house, unless you call using a bulldozer a form of home renovation. So let’s just assume it’s a $2.4 million teardown.

I was both pleased and saddened that within hours the story had become the most-read thing I’ve ever written. By a long shot. It will likely remain the most-read thing I’ve written in my life — the numbers on it are pretty crazy. I’m a bestseller at schadenfreude house porn!

Perhaps the real nutty thing about all this is $2.4 million isn’t really that much to pay for a house — or the land it sits on — in Vancouver. The day after I wrote this, The Province published another story about a $6 million house someone bought and planned on tearing down to make way for a new home.

What is going on in Vancouver, you may ask? I certainly ask myself that every day. Well, the story “Follow the money” by my colleagues Sam Cooper and Dan Fumano point to some of the explanations. It’s an almost unbelievable tale of corrupt real estate agents, shady investors, secret money transfers — and people being gunned down.

Most of us living in Vancouver are used to being priced out of our own homes. (I actually live in the suburb of Langley, because I couldn’t afford a port-a-potty in Vancouver.) We make bitter jokes, sigh curses about being a world-class city and get on with trying to pay the rent/mortgage. But it wasn’t always this way. And it doesn’t have to be this way.

I strongly advise checking out these stories to see what an absurd shell city Vancouver has become. And to learn what happens when the unchecked forces of globalization decide to visit your city.