the sap season of spring

The sap run came late this year. We are down to a single mason jar of maple syrup in the pantry. I’ve had to hide it from my partner who uses it to sweeten his coffee, else wise the girls won’t have any for french toast and pancake treats.

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This winter started early and this late spring arrives with a sense of relief. The sap is flowing heavy now, the sound of drops plinking into the sap buckets merrily as I empty the day’s bounty.

It is clumsy in this first week. The snow is still deep as I trudge into the forest in my snowshoes, hauling a sled with a drill, hammer, spigots, and buckets. My snowshoe comes loose and I sink to my hip, the buckets crashing together in the sled like a laugh track to my escapades.

I dig out the tree and drill into its sunniest side. Bits of sawdust collect at the base before I am finished. It makes me smile when a few drips appear at the edge of the spigot as I tap it into the tree. If not, it doesn’t matter. They will come.

The next day I trudge back out. It should be easier in the trail I broke the day before, but the sun’s been high and has softened the snow. Saplings bent beneath the weight of snow pop up to trip me. The bright yellow buckets I use to transport the sap swing on their handles, landing upright while I faceplant into the soft snow, quietly cursing my snowshoes. It would not be easier without them, I know, but I am clumsy when I wear them.

The cheery yellow buckets grow heavy as I tip the galvanized buckets that hang from the spigots inside them. This year the snow fleas are heavy, small harmless bugs which hop and gather in the hollows of my footprints. They seem to particularly enjoy the hole I made when I stepped out of my snowshoe and sank. One sap bucket is filled with them. I tip it through a filter of fabric mesh and shake the snow fleas off on the snow.

There are easier ways of doing this. I could set up hoses to run into a single cauldron, but for all my clumsiness it’s good to be outside stumbling into spring with a warm sun on my skin.048-002

Days are filled with boiling, life becoming scented with sweet sugar, cobwebs I never knew were there laden with fairy baubles and beauty. I dip a mug into the hot sap and sip it like tea: hot, sweet, and maple flavored. A spring treat for me while I pour syrup on the snow for the girls to roll up on a Popsicle stick and eat as chewy candy.

 

Someday I might venture into maple butter or maple wine, but while the girls are small it’s proven best to keep things simple: watch the boil with a book or a pen in my hand while they play their games and we stretch our bodies after the long cold wait of winter.

Submit Your Stories Sunday: dinosaurs

Welcome to this week’s edition of Submit Your Stories Sunday. Every week I bring you a unique call for submissions to help you find a home for your stories or inspire a new one. Each call will contain a speculative element and will offer payment upon acceptance. Next, I’ll recommend a story to ignite your creativity and get you thinking in a new way about your submission and I’ll wrap it up with the writerly news of the week.

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Cast of Wonders’ Dinovember

Eligibility: speculative stories about dinosaurs aimed for an audience 12 to 17 years of age. Characters may be older than the audience, but the story should focus on firsts, wonder, and avoid adult elements.

Take Note: all submissions to Cast of Wonders must be anonymous

What makes this call stand out: Cast of Wonders offers their stories online and in podcast format. Anonymous submissions ensure stories are judge based on story merit rather than by author’s fame/gender/race.

Payment: $0.06 per word for original fiction

Submit by: this call is open from April 1st to April 15th

Click here to go to the original call for details.

A story to ignite your creativity:

My current favorite dino-story is The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander. It appears in the Dinosaur issue of Uncanny magazine where you can read it for free by clicking here. I can’t help but wonder if this story will actually appear as a reprint for Cast of Wonder’s Dinovember call. Cast of Wonders looks for stories with elements of firsts (*takes note*) and The Tale follows a velociraptor who leaves her sisters for the first time. It’s a good fit. She leaves these sisters to solve the mystery of a prince who doesn’t act like other humans. Once in the prince’s castle, the raptor meets his betrothed, a princess with a side of witchery who can speak raptor. While the prince’s behavior proves to be his personal blend of immaturity, foolishness, and privilege, the level-headed princess steps into her story role as friend and ally.

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Cover art by Galen Dara

The Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters is bright and unexpected for being told from the perspective of a dinosaur, and Bolander does it with such perfect detail. The itch of a tick between feather quills where your beak will not reach, the scent of blood, and the joy of a successful hunt – alien, but focused to evoke the empathy of a human reader.

This perspective is further filtered through the writerly tone of the story: a loving grandmother tells this story to us as we lay in our beds, eyes scratchy with sleep. This grandmotherly narrator leads us deep inside a story that otherwise we may have found too strange to bear. Bolander has taken the strange and wrapped it up in something not only familiar, but easy to trust. Sure, your storytelling grandmother might be a velociraptor but shh, quiet, listen, grandma’s talking. Bolander pulls you in, filling your mind with a dinosaur fairy tale and by the end of it we are hatchling raptors peeping from our nests, hanging on her every word.

To date, this is the only dinosaur fairy tale I have had the pleasure of reading. I wanted to highlight the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters for the Dinovember call for this very reason: what other types of story are in need of a dinosaur? What classic story could do with a retelling involving a few dinosaurs in place of human or animal characters? How far can your imagination bend to accommodate a brontosaurus or two?

Writerly links worth sharing this week:

My feeds were filled with book piracy this past week. Like TV shows, movies, and music, illegal book downloads are hitting artists hard. The Guardian posted on excellent breakdown of the hows, whys, and detrimental effects in this article.

Kevin Powers wrote a poignant review of Vonnegut’s Slaughter-House Five for its fiftieth anniversary in the New York Times. CW for war and gun violence.

Happy writing!

IWSG: magic revealed

Hello and welcome to the first Wednesday of the month, otherwise known as the official meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG). The IWSG is a super secret, crazy exclusive group of writers who band together to support each other. If you’d like to get to know the other members, read about their writing adventures, and perhaps sign up yourself, click here to discover everything you need to make that happen.

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Last week editor Vivian Caethe revealed the cover for the upcoming Unlocking the Magic anthology, designed by Owl Quest Creative. My short story,  The Night Janitor,  is included. Have a look:

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cover designed by Owl Quest Creative

It’s a beauty and a thrill. I’m excited to be a part of this project for many reasons. One, because the way mental illness is portrayed in fantasy is problematic and this anthology has set out to upend those tropes. Poor mental health doesn’t make someone magical, it makes them suffer. My protagonist suffers from severe anxiety and panic attacks. He doesn’t get over these afflictions in the story, but he does discover magic still exists in his world and finds new ways to cope and manage his anxiety.

Secondly, there are some amazing writers here and… me. How did that happen? Thirdly, and related to two, is because A. Merc Rustad is one of my favorite living writers and we have stories in the same book! I hope I never get over that thrill.

I never expected to turn my experiences with anxiety into a story, especially my most successful story to date. It wasn’t easy to see it there on the page, or to climb inside my anxiety to write about it, but it felt magical to tug and pull the words down around my protagonist, surrounding him with wonder.

 

 

 

*the Kickstarter for the Unlocking the Magic anthology is complete and pre-orders are now closed. I hope to have a link to the usual bookshops in the future for anyone interested.

 

Submit Your Stories Sunday: witches in the city

Notice: due to the death of a friend, I am taking a small hiatus. Posts will resume on Wednesday, March 6th. The next Submit Your Stories Sunday will be posted on March 10th. Thank you for understanding.

Welcome to this week’s edition of Submit Your Stories Sunday! Every week I bring you a unique call for submissions to help you find a home for your stories or inspire a new one. Each call will contain a speculative element and will offer payment upon acceptance. Next, I’ll recommend a story to help inspire your submission and finish off with a list of writing news and articles I came across this week.

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Speculative City: Occult

Eligibility: original stories, essays, and poems set in a city, written to the theme of occult and under 5500 words.

Take Note: the editors define “occult” in the call for submissions, so be sure to click through and make sure you’re on track.

Payment: $20-$75 depending on length

Submit by: March 25, 2019

Click here to go to the original call for details.

A story to ignite your creativity:

This story came onto my radar after it received a Nebula nomination earlier this week (you can find a link to that below in the writerly links of the week) and I’m glad it did. A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow tucks witchcraft into a library, and makes witches of librarians. It’s a delightful read for a bibliophile or anyone who has ever found solace in a library.

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

What I like about this story is how Harrow takes an ordinary profession and makes us see the mundane in a magical light. The power of the story doesn’t come from shock and awe, but from its heart. This heart cannot be divorced from its occult leanings, yet it is vastly different from the usual paranormal tropes. A Witch’s Guide is an outlier, a unique way of seeing and using magic, and it has been my experience that there is a sweet spot of inspiration out there among the outliers. The trick is standing on the outlier’s shoulders, glancing back at the usual tropes from where you’ve come, and noticing what’s taking form beside you.

Good luck, writers.

Writerly links of the week:

The romance world was rocked by a plagiarism scandal on an unprecedented scale that just got worse as the day went on.

Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, a pro speculative fiction magazine, has permanently closed to submissions. The last issue will be June/July 2019.

Writer Beware posted about a new scam writers should be watching for: publishers who claim copyright on edits. Yikes. Click here to go read up on that one.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom this week, for the SFWA has released the Nebula nominations for 2018, no doubt making several author’s dreams come true. Click here to go see them now. Congratulations to the writers (squee!).

Happy writing!

dystopia rocks

Today a book containing stories from a few friends and critique partners is dropping for pre-orders: Dystopia From the Rock. This is a collection of short dystopian stories from Canadian authors. I reviewed the last From the Rock book, Chillers, a few months ago here. If this one is anything like Chillers, it will be stuffed with quality short stories. Especially the ones my friends wrote *wink* Go check it out!

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cover art by J.J. King

I’m still making my way through Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass. Both of my girls have had birthdays in the past few weeks and I had a few deadlines which slowed my progress. That’s the beauty of an online class, you can schedule it to fit your life.

Something amazing DID happen regarding the class. I heard my writing voice. A non-writer friend recently asked me what a writer’s voice is and after some thought, I told her it’s “the sound of your accent to someone from another country. You can tell when you hear someone else’s accent, but hearing your own is another thing altogether.” When I finished up the voice exercises in Neil’s class, there it was: my voice, sitting right there on the page, clear as spring water.

I did what any modern writer would do. I tweeted about it. And then this happened:

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I didn’t fall off my chair, but I should have, for dramatic effect. Instead, I giggled at random for twenty-four hours.

Happy writing!

 

Submit Your Stories Sunday: predators in petticoats

Welcome to this week’s edition of Submit Your Stories Sunday! Every week I bring you a unique call for submissions to help you find a home for your stories or inspire a new one. Each call will contain a speculative element and will offer payment upon acceptance. Following the call,  I recommend a short story along the same theme to help inspire your writing and get the writing wheels turning.

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Predators in Petticoats

Eligibility: stories must feature a female predator, originality preferred over the usual tropes. Any genre is welcome, and stories should be 4 000 – 7 000 words or under 1 000 for flash fiction.

Take Note: petticoats are not required (though it does make for a catchy title I must say)

Payment: $0.04 per word pending successful funding on kickstarter

Submit by: March 31st, 2019

Click here to go to the original call for details.

A Story to Inspire Your Submission:

Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman is a retelling of the Snow White fairy tale. In this version, Neil takes the concept of ‘lips as red as blood’ and ‘skin as white as snow’ to paint the girl a vampire. The immortal child-princess is a predator who preys upon her father, her stepmother, and her subjects.

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What I like about this story is that it juxtaposes the evil predatory nature of a vampire with the little girl we have known since childhood. Who hasn’t heard of Snow White, poor wronged princess and friend to dwarves? She has long been a symbol of ultimate innocence in our minds, making her a dangerous predator indeed.

Snow, Glass, Apples is told from the perspective of the stepmother, giving us neither the beginning of Snow’s story, nor the ending, which leaves the reader with an uncomfortable sense of danger in the world. The vampire child and her pedo-necrophiliac prince have no right to live happily ever after, but we all know how Snow White’s story ends and this is no fairy tale.

You can find Snow, Glass, Apples collected in Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warnings: Short Collections and Disturbances or you can read it online for free by clicking here and following the link. CW for necrophilia and sexuality.

Writerly Links Worth Sharing This Week:

The idea of “controlled digital lending” loomed large over the publishing world this past week. You can catch up on the controversy by reading this article from Publishing Perspectives.

Happy writing!

a Valentine’s day missed connection

Missed Connection – Centennial Park

For years I fed the birds at your feet from the little bench across the path. I hope you could hear their song when you were made of marble, or plaster, or whatever it is statues are made of.

This morning, as the sun shone and the songbirds clung to your outstretched fingers, trilling their song, you came alive. I thought my heart would burst. You were always grey, and suddenly your dress was scarlet and your skin flushed with color. Scratches marred your fingertips where the birds clung too tight. Anyone else would have shooed them away, but you didn’t. You waited until they took wing on their own. I think you must be the kindest soul I’ve never met.

Too shy, too damned afraid, and too unworthy, I watched you walk away unable to find the words to say I love you.

Later, I wondered.  I imagined you were under a terrible curse that finally broke. What if true love broke the curse? What if my love set you free and I was too afraid to speak to you? If there was ever any magic in this world, please. Give me another chance.

I’ll be waiting in the park where your statue once stood. I’ll be there every day from now until forever. You’ll know me by the crimson rose I’ll wear in my lapel. Please come. I miss you.

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Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

Submit Your Stories Sunday: outsiders

Welcome to this week’s edition of Submit Your Stories Sunday! Every week I bring you a unique call for submissions to help you find a home for your stories or inspire a new one. Each call will contain a speculative element and will offer payment upon acceptance. Next, I’ll recommend a book to help inspire your story submission and finish off with a list of the best writing-related articles I came across this week.

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Songs for the Elephant Man

Eligibility: Writers can submit two stories about outsiders, preferably with a tinge of weird, from 1000 to 7000 words. Reprints welcome.

Take Note: the call specifically mentions how outsiders often prove more sympathetic protagonists than the gatekeepers to the ‘inside,’ suggesting this is an important element to the editors.

Payment: 1p per word to a maximum of 50 Euros per story

Submit by: March 18th, 2019

Click here to go to the original call for details.

A Book to Inspire You:

The ‘Elephant Man’ the anthology is named after was a cruel nickname given to Joseph Merrick. Merrick was a scholarly, sensitive man who was exhibited in a circus show as a monster because of his physical deformities when he was young. His sad life continues to capture hearts in books, movies, and history.

Another creature deemed monstrous who has long captured the imagination of humanity is Frankenstein’s monster. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the first ‘classic’ I read as a youth that I didn’t have to struggle through. I picked it up one wintry afternoon and didn’t put it down until I was finished. I followed Dr. Frankenstein’s descent into mad science as he dug up bodies, collected amniotic fluid from birthing mothers, and set up his lightning rods to capture lightning. Dr. Frankenstein may have been the protagonist of the story, but he was the stuff of nightmares.

The monster, on the other hand, I loved. I wept for him, bled for him, and I steeled myself when he made his first kill. I wanted to get inside the book and undo that scene, rewrite it, change it, do something to save the monster from himself. That’s where Shelley’s genius shone.

Of course, I couldn’t crawl inside the book and save the monster, or protect any of the innocents from what was coming next in the story’s terrible climax. In case you haven’t read Frankenstein yet, I won’t spoil it. It is a classic worth the title, and a thrill ride of its own merit. More importantly to our topic, Frankenstein hits on the elements mentioned in the anthology’s call – wherein the outsider garners more sympathy from the reader than the gatekeeper, in this case, Dr. Frankenstein himself. Another element worth studying is how the Doctor’s motivations are equally strong in opposition to the monster’s.

Writerly Links of the Week

Mythcreants posted an article arguing against ‘Cheap Descriptions of Bullying’ which may offer a few suggestions to anyone writing for the above call too.

The New Yorker posted a head-shaking exposee of best-selling author Dan Mallory/A. J. Finn early last week that has every layperson suddenly interested in the high-stakes, deceptive world of… publishing?

IWSG: taking Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass

Hello and welcome to the first Wednesday of the month, otherwise known as the official meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG). The IWSG is a super secret, crazy exclusive group of writers who band together to support each other. If you’d like to get to know the other members, read about their writing adventures, and perhaps sign up yourself, click here to discover everything you need to make that happen.

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This week my mind is full of Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass. I plan to review the class here when I’ve completed it, but I’m taking my time to glean as much of Neil’s story sorcery as I can. I’m on Lesson 4 of 19, a week from beginning and I am buzzing with quiet inspiration and small thrills of discovery. This is a sensation I often get from taking writing classes, which I get to do every few years and not often enough. The alchemy of immersing myself in writing craft with a guide I admire is a delight.

There are such nuggets of Neil gold in there too. I’ve probably worn my readers’ ears off raving about Neil Gaiman. Fun fact: while he is my favorite writer, I do not love, or always like, everything he writes which somehow makes him stand out all the more.

Two quotes from the class have made it into my notebook, to be tattooed across my writing desk’s wooden flesh in some distant future. The first, has elicited a few gasps in conversation, and let me tell you, packs a wallop in the lecture, is about showing vs telling:

“I’m not going to tell you to feel sad. I’m going to kill a unicorn and break your heart.” – Neil Gaiman.

That line got to me. Wow.

From another lesson, this quote helped me pick myself up on a day with multiple rejection letters, which always gets to me. I can handle one per day. Two hurts.

“You learn more from finishing a failure than you do from writing a success.” – Neil Gaiman.

I have written multiple failures, and I’ll write many more. It’s good to be reminded that those stories do have a purpose.

(FYI that line does ring a bit familiar from an essay in The View from the Cheap Seats, but there is little regurgitated material thus far in the class).

In terms of output, I’ve outlined a new short story from the assignments in Lesson 3, and I will have to complete another before moving onto Lesson 5. This second one I’m expected to write in a single setting but as a toddler’s mother… I expect it will have to be flash fiction for me to pull it off. Unless you’re willing to babysit, hmm?

This is the most writing heavy course I’ve taken before, which is perfect for a hibernation-friendly month like February in Canada. It’s going to be an inspiring month.

Submit Your Stories Sunday: the People’s Preservatory

Welcome to this week’s edition of Submit Your Stories Sunday! Every week I bring you a unique call for submissions to help you find a home for your stories or inspire a new one. Each call will contain a speculative element and will offer payment upon acceptance.

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The People’s Preservatory

Eligibility: Anonobot is seeking strange, possibly humorous, speculative fiction up to 3000 words. Original fiction only, please.

Take Note: there is no specific theme to this anthology, however I recommend you read their wacky call of submissions carefully to get a sense of their taste.

What makes this call stand out: writers can submit up to three pieces for this call

Payment: $0.08 per word up to 3k, or $1.00 per line of poetry (minimum $15).

Submit by: March 15th, 2018

Click here to go to the original call for details.

Something to inspire your writing:

It can be tricky to get going on a story for a call without any theme at all. An abyss of possibilities yawns at your feet. So… besides weird and wacky, what do you do? This is part where I usually recommend a book.

Instead, I’m going to hone in on that weird and wacky element and point you in a direction to creatively “compost” some ideas with those same weird and wacky labels. Neil Gaiman says that stories are born of confluence, of two ideas colliding, and he knows his writing.

One place I like to hunt for that confluence is Magic Realism Bot on twitter. This is a bot account, following an algorithm of mishmash that can end up absurd, strange, weird, and occasionally, like something out a fairy tale. With upwards of 16k tweets under its circuits, I can always find a spark when I’m stuck for an idea. And they are usually weird and wacky.

Here’s a few screenshots I pulled to give you an idea:2019-02-02 19.18.35.png

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If you like what you see, head on over to the blue bird and follow Magic Realism Bot for all the free story fodder you can retweet in a day.

News and Things:

Have you heard about Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass yet? Of course I signed up for my favorite writer’s writing class and I’m excited to review here on the blog for you. However, I am not willing to rush through it and miss a single delicious drop of Neil’s story sorcery.