Category Archives: Shrapnel

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.


Will the real Mona Lisa please stand up?

Is there a secret Mona Lisa hidden away under the painting we all know? New scans show a different woman lurking underneath it. Of course, readers of The Mona Lisa Sacrifice may have a different theory….

It’s a gun world after all

When I wrote The Warhol Gang, I included a couple of “gun culture” scenes — one a corporate team-building event that takes place at a shooting theme park in the mall called Gun World, the other a Rampaging Office Co-Worker emergency drill.

At the time, I thought I was writing a satire or black comedy about American culture, and I worried I was going too far. I never really thought I was forecasting actual American culture. But then I read about things like Gun TV, and I realize I didn’t go far enough….

Don’t even get me started on the livestreaming and viral videos part of The Warhol Gang….

My publisher just won two World Fantasy Awards!

Congrats to my publisher ChiZine Publications for winning not one but two World Fantasy Awards. ChiZine won best collection for Helen Marshall’s Gifts for the One Who Comes After (tying with Angela Slatter’s The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings from Tartarus Press). Publishers Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi also won the Special Award – Professional, for all their achievements.

I went with ChiZine years ago with my Cross books because they’re a fearless, brilliant publisher who are willing to take chances that other publishers can not or will not take. They publish the books that are about vision, not marketing/bookstore niches — and better yet, they back them! If you’re connected with CZ on social media, you’ll see how much everyone there cares about the books they publish. As most writers know, that’s not often the case with publishers. So it’s great to see ChiZine get some love.

Now I’m off to ask them for a deadline extension….

Give the gift of a short story advent calendar this Christmas


I love the idea of a short story advent calendar so much I had to write about it for The Province.

So it was with great delight that I learned of the 2015 Short Story Advent Calendar, a boxed set of 24 individually bound stories by Canadian writers. The set includes works from such bold voices as Zsuzsi Gartner, Pasha Malla and “others.” Creators Michael Hingston and Natalie Olsen don’t want to reveal all the writers involved just yet — it’s an advent calendar, after all.

“The rest of the lineup is a surprise,” says Hingston in an interview with The Province. “The stories are all individually sealed, with no identifying information on the covers aside from what day of the month you’re going to open it on. So each day’s story is a surprise right up until the moment you open it.”

New podcast: I talk to Elisabeth de Mariaffi about her breakout thriller

“I thought I was writing a book about fear.”

That was what Elisabeth de Mariaffi told me when we sat down to record a podcast for the Book Rogues over at The Province. De Mariaffi was talking about her breakout novel, The Devil You Know. She says she didn’t set out to write a thriller, but it’s become one of the most talked about thrillers of the year.

The book is set in the early days of the Paul Bernardo serial killings investigation and follows Evie Jones, a young reporter assigned to the case who is maybe being stalked herself. The novel has resonated with women, with many of them writing to de Mariaffi or coming up to her at readings to talk about their own experiences.

We talked about the response to the book, its possible adaptation for TV and what de Mariaffi is working on now. Check out the article and listen to the podcast at The Province.