Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Things I Like Part 2: Favourite Books I Read in 2018

As year-end lists of bests and favourites sweep across the interwebs, newspapers and magazines, I thought I'd add mine to the lot. Following, though definitely not all published in 2018, are some of the favourite books, series and authors I read, across CanLit and several of the genres, this past year. It was a rough year for me in many ways, and I turned more than usual to books that could give me comfort—through joy, fun, compassion, queer community, distraction, exploration—rather than purposely going to books I thought would challenge my thinking. The jokes on me, of course, because there's no such thing as a good writer who's not going to challenge you in some way.

Overall, this was also a real catch-up year of reading for me. In poetry, I feel foolish having only now finally discovered the glory of Trish Salah's Wanting in Arabic, as well as American Kaveh Akhbar's 2017 Calling a Wolf a Wolf. The two differ enormously in style and content, yet both of these lyrical and insightful collections now rank among my very favourite poetry books, alongside Anne Carson's Red and Michael Ondaatje's There's a Trick With a Knife I'm Learning To Do. I also this year at last read Gwen Benaway's beautiful 2016 collection Passage. Having myself also grown up in Wingham, Ontario, though admittedly a bit before Gwen did, near the shores of Lake Huron, I felt like I was reading a sort of homecoming narrative, even as Gwen articulately mapped out her own journey, one different from mine, across early adulthood and the Great Lakes. While we are on the topic of Gwen and her skillful writing, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to read her absolutely shattering essays as well, published in 2018 through publications such as Hazlit, Room Magazine and Flare.

This year also found me finally opening up Farzana Doctor's All Inclusive. This story of a young mixed-race Canadian looking for something she can't quite deduce while working at a Mexican resort was amazing to me not only in its bridging of cultures and its insights into the mind of a realistic and stereotype-topplingly non-evil bisexual character, but for Doctor's ability to write the dead in a way that is simultaneously endearing and visceral. I do warn you to, unlike me, not read All Inclusive immediately before taking a trans-Atlantic flight because, well, you'll see.

I tend to either go all-in or barely at all in any given year for non-fiction. My favourite of the few I managed in 2018 was by far Erin Wunker's inspiring non-fiction book, Notes from a Feminist Killjoy: Essays on Everyday Life. Not only validating for anyone who has considered using the term "feminist," Wunker's insights have changed how I view what I value in myself and in female friends, as well as how I view gender expression, entitlement and my own fears.

For fiction released in 2018, what really hit home for me was the ridiculous level of differentiation between what we see as CanLit proper and everything else being written by incredibly talented Canadians. I adored Ottawa author 'Nathan Burgoine's queer and compassionate short story collection Of Echoes Born, for example, but worry no one in "CanLit" will hear about it, because he is labeled as genre and published by U.S. presses.

I also loved the already much-praised Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead for its contemporary magic blended with a beautifully flawed and broken but strong main character. I think the echo of Jonny will stay in my head and my soul forever, alongside tragic characters written by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Shirley Jackson and Joseph Heller. Jonny's worldview is his own, shaped amid ruinations still in progress, but aspiring to a type of healing most of us can only ever dream of.

In addition to CanLit and graphic novels, I've indulged a lot in genre this year, too. 

As a result, I have come away with respect and enthusiasm for the male/male romance works of British romance writers Jay Northcote (particularly his Rainbow Place series) and E. Davies (a Canadian by birth), Americans Sloan Parker (especially the somehow both tragic yet hopeful Breathe), Sean AshcroftK.M. Neauhold (whose sexually fun and emotionally meaningful Heathens Ink series I flew through) and Lucy Lennox (whose Forever Wilde and Made Marian series I've found charming, erotic and engaging). It's worth noting that a number of Davies and Neauhold's books also have some great, fully present primary trans characters. I also very much enjoyed working my way through the back catalogues of two very different but talented Australian queer romance authors, Renae Kaye and N.R. Walker.

I have to admit to being less impressed with the few
female/female romance books I sampled this year, which I think has more to do with the cozy and folksy style of the few I read, than a failure of writing overall in the genre. Having read numerous lesbian pulp novels and mysteries in the past, I'm hoping next year I will uncover more newer work in the genre that combines eroticism and romance with the types of compelling plots and believable, well-rounded characters I discovered in the male/male romance field this year.

In fantasy, last year I went all out catching up on as much of iconic Canadian urban fantasy author Tanya Huff's work as I could, discovering her to be even better than I'd remembered in her ability to combine playfulness and thoughtful story and character development in worlds both hugely and only slightly different from our own. This year, I was delighted to also discover the deliciously fun and subversive work of former-Australian, now-Canadian queer urban fantasy writer Christian Baines, starting with his Arcadia Trust vampires and werewolves trilogy, the third in which will finally be released in 2019.

In mystery, I continued this year winding my way through the riveting and deeply human Dan Sharp mysteries by Canadian Jeffrey Round. I admit to having slowed down after flying through the first few books in the series, now saving each next book as a special treat to myself. Round tells me the series is meant as a seven-book arc, and I don't want it to end.

I, of course, read many other books this year, but the above are the ones I'd most recommend to others. As for their scope, it's been a learning year for me, and I encourage you, too, to not to pass over recommended books based solely only what you think you may know about the genre under which they've been categorized. As in everything, if you're open to new experiences, you can find great ones in surprising places.

To stay up-to-date on books I'm reading throughout the year, join me on GoodReads. And please remember to leave reviews on GoodReads, Amazon and elsewhere for books you've read yourself. The ratings and reviews you provide can not only increase sales and readership, but encourage authors and cheer them on to keep making good art.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Lost Enough: My Book Baby Becomes Homeless

American author Glen Hirshberg once gave me and James K. Moran some great advice: that every stage in writing, publishing, marketing and book-selling will have highs and lows, so you should enjoy all of the former at their utmost, and do your best to roll with the latter. (The same could be said for most adventures in life, but I"m trying to stick to one massive thing at a time here.)

It's through Glen's big-picture lens that I'm trying to view the sad news that my tiny-but-lovely publisher, Morning Rain Publishing, recently announced it will be shuttering its publishing house, essentially making my short fiction collection, Lost Enough, homeless.

Lost Enough will continue to be available through the press until March 2019.

In the meantime, while I figure out how to keep this collection of speculative and other stories in print beyond then, you can still purchase the through the retailers below. Please help keep it alive by buying it for yourself, reviewing it on Goodreads and Amazon if you've read and liked it, telling others about it and/or asking your local library to carry it!

Argo Bookshop (Montreal)

Chapters (Ottawa)
Perfect Books (Ottawa)
Prospero: The Book Company (Ottawa)

Novel Idea (Kingston)

Glad Day Bookshop (Toronto)

Pages Books on Kensington (Calgary)

Variant Edition (Edmonton) (shop online, for ebook or print edition)
Amazon. ca (shop online, for ebook or print edition) (shop online, for ebook or print edition)

You can also order Lost Enough through your local, independent bookstore, or any Chapters/Indigo store.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem Anthology

Some of you know that my mom died last year of cancer of the esophagus. But, she was far from the only person I know who has had cancer. Given its prevalence as a world health epidemic, and leading cause of death, I'm certain that, if you are reading this, no matter where you are, you know someone who has, or has had, cancer, too. Or maybe you have had to face it yourself.

The amazing and kind writer and editor Priscila Uppal, who passed away earlier this year after her own extended battle with cancer, wanted to create an anthology of poetry related to cancer and those it affects. She and fellow author and editor Meaghan Strimas reached out for poems last year.

The resulting collection, Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem Anthology, becomes available this month. It includes poetry by dozens of emerging and established poets, including myself and my partner, James K Moran, as well as writers such as Zoe Whittall, Canisia Lubrin, Bardia Sinaee, rob mclennan and Susan McMaster.

The book launches at a reading and memorial service for Priscila in Toronto, November 8:

An additional launch will take place in Ottawa on Wednesday, November 21, 7 p.m., at Bar Robo, as part of the Sawdust Reading Series, with James K Moran generously donating his featured reading spot to help support the anthology. The event will include readings by several of the anthology's poets hailing from the Ottawa-to-Montreal region, myself among them.

Priscila wrote, in her original emails to me and other potential supporters for and contributors to the project, that she hoped poetry could be applied to help others, including those who struggle to support people with cancer, either as part of their work or as part of caring for parents, partners, children, friends or other loved ones.

Priscila originally envisioned not just that poems by published poets could provide a source of support, empathy and personal insights, but that the project as a whole would encourage people, including those who may never before have thought of reading or writing poetry, to discover it as a way of expressing some of the many thoughts and emotions that come with living with cancer and its effects.

I'm looking forward to reading the anthology, and I hope Priscila's vision becomes a reality for those who could very much use poetry in their lives.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Monday, 6 August 2018

Quiche Me, Baby! (My First Published Recipe)

Sometimes you don't know you've always longed for something until you get it. That's the case with my first published recipe.

As a fundraiser for the Bi Arts Festival in Toronto, festival organizers have compiled and released Big Bi Nibble. The vibrantly designed book is available in print and e-edition on Etsy. It includes recipes for many things sweet and savory, from soups to brunch, and mains to desserts. It also includes my own recipe for spinach and feta quiche.

The writing also contains heaping portions of humour, creativity and wit from bi folk and allies around the world. Luckily for me, many of the recipes (but certainly not all, so fear not, omnivores) are vegetarian or vegan.

I encourage everyone to buy the book and make the recipes. You won't regret it, and you'll be helping a great festival.

Speaking of which, I'll be reading (fiction, not recipes) at the second annual Bi Arts Festival on September 22, at Glad Day Bookshop, as part of the Author Showcase, 2 to 4 p.m. If you're around Toronto and want a great afternoon of readings from the bi community, please come listen.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Things I Like Part 1: Comic Arts

I've been wondering how to do some good with my blog instead of only using it to toot my own horn (although I'll keep doing that too, because self-promotion is hugely important for small-press writers, since we don't have a lot of others to lean on that horn for us).

But, I also want to tell you about some of the best things I've recently encountered across the arts and entertainment worlds. Let's start with some of the best comic books, series and collections I've come across over the last year or two. I'm definitely no expert in this field, and really only came to graphic novels a few years ago, but following are some amazing things I think others might enjoy reading, too.

Because being bi keeps me particularly aware that solid LGBTQ2+ representation is still a rarity in nearly all art forms, all content recommended below is either LGBTQ2-themed, -inclusive, or, at the very minimum, -friendly.

If you have your own recommendations, please share them in a comment!

The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal (NSFW)
Available as an e-comic and graphic novel, primarily black and white with painted, full-colour splash pages
By E.K. Weaver

The staff at Argo Books in Montreal turned me onto this book, and I fell deeply in love, as, not surprisingly, do TJ and Amal.

A cross-US tale of travel, love, discovery, deceit and growth, it's like On The Road, but with a point (don't @ me; you know it's true).

The omnibus edition includes a number of extras, including some fantastic footnotes.

However you read this collection, the comic includes smart dialogue, great bi rep, class commentary, pop culture references up the wazoo, gorgeously rendered scenery, and sex scenes that manage to be sexy and beautiful while also reflecting both characters' deep insecurities.

Graphic novel series and collected editions, colour
By Marjorie Liu and Sana Tanaka

If you can stop ogling the individual artworks that make up this magnificently imagined series on ancient politics, feline poets, and interspecies wars, you will find yourself in a world where no one trusts anyone, and the story's hero certainly cannot trust herself. That's because Maika Halfwolf, a stunning, one-armed warrior, shares her body with the soul of an ancient, demonic monster with its own agenda and a hunger for human flesh.

Be patient through the first several issues' focus on building the series' elaborate world of Arcanics, Monstrums, cats and Cumaeans; it is very worth it to keep going.

This series is beyond brilliant in creating a world where everything is everything, and nothing is what it seems. Also contains excellent disability rep, and powerful women throughout.

Starfighter (NSFW)
Erotic M/M space epic e-comic, also available in print issues, black and white
By HamletMachine

Hot, exciting fun (CW: emotional abuse and domination at the start, however crucial for the plot and characterization). This engaging sci-fi story about space-based fighter pilots in the future battling intergalactic enemies and unknown beings, also delves into the deceptions among the many political layers above and around them.

The black and white art is stark yet nuanced, as, it turns out, are the characters, and improves significantly as the series evolves. An ongoing web series, Starfighter includes intriguing, if not entirely new, ideas about the possible connections between matter, energy, intellect and emotion, as our hero, Abel, learns he can use his more positive emotions in a new and powerful way, even as those in control sink lower and lower as they try to weaponize him.

Above all, this sci-fi adventure mystery is sexy and fun in a Matrix-but-with-plenty-of-gay-sex kind of way. Has some non-binary minor characters, and excellent building of backstories.

Novae: The Necromancer and the Astronomer's Apprentice
Historical M/M fantasy e-comic, colour
By KaiJu

I am a sucker for beauty, and this ongoing e-comic has it in spades, in its characters, its full-colour artwork, and its slow-burn romance.

The historical fantasy connects Raziol, a brilliant, young 17th-century Arab astronomer lauded by his kind mentor but struggling under classism and racism in Paris, with Sulvain, a brilliant necromancer of enormous, unknown age reticent, after loss, to open himself up to love again.

Updated Mondays and Thursdays, the series is just reaching its stride recently, as we learn there may be more to both Sulvain and the streets of Paris than to all the stars in the sky.

Main character bi representation and carefully conveyed emotional subtleties.

Step Aside, Pops
The third collection of Hark! A Vagrant comic strips
By Kate Beaton

Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant witty, esoteric comic strips have been collected into three books so far. This third continues to combine her deceptively simple drawing style with scathing social, scientific and cultural commentary.

Not everything in the collection will appeal to all readers, as Beaton narrows in to deliver burns to some very specific recipients, including composers, thinkers, scientists, politicians, explorers, superheroes and more.

But, if you are a person and are interested in, well, anything, you'll find sets of strips here to make you laugh, chortle, roll your eyes and/or holler "Damn right!. You tell him where to go!"

By various writers and illustrators

My kid continues to love Scooby-Doo comics, including Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and Scooby-Doo Team-Up, and I have to admit, even for adults, these are just so much fun.

I'm not linking to these, though, because you should really head out and support your local comic book retailer if you can!

If you can't, don't forget that most libraries already carry, or will appreciate your recommendations to order, a variety of graphic novels and comic books.

More Novel, Graphic Recommendations
If you want to know about other great graphic novels and series more broadly across the genre, or be warned away from some of the lesser or evil, visit my partner James K. Moran's blog, where he reviews comics, films and fiction, and talks about the writing life. You'll find he's quite smart, despite having married a fellow writer.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Poetry Mini Interview

I recently did a five-question mini-interview with the relatively new Poetry Mini Interviews blog. Posted each Monday over the past five weeks, the final installment is now live. Thank you to Thomas Whyte and the blog for interviewing me.

It was a great opportunity to talk about what I've been working on recently, discuss my writing process, share some thoughts on the long game that is poetry and writing and general, and even make some reading recommendations.

If you get a chance, I highly recommend visiting the blog for its growing list of interviews with contemporary poets.

Recently posted or ongoing interviews include ones with Canadian poets Annick MacAskill, Cassidy McFadzean, Manahil Bandukwala, Cameron Anstee, Sennah Yee, Amanda Earl and rob mclennan, among many others. You can also follow the blog @poetryminiQ.