Review of The Other Oscar by Cora Siré

the other oscarGood things do indeed come in small packages—even novels, as is demonstrated by Cora Siré’s The Other Oscar. Although the book is only 87 pages in length, it manages to accomplish more than many books that are four times its length.

Oscar, the main character in this story, is a Canadian musician who’s been hired to play his cello for a bit role in a movie being filmed in the city of Iquique, Chile. The problem? He must do the playing on a small raft in the middle of the ocean, and he can’t swim. Oscar is a young father, divorced, a little socially awkward, good-natured, and a devoted son to a father with mental health problems. In fact, Oscar is somewhat obsessed with madness, which happens to also be the topic of the film in which he has been called upon to play.

Siré does an excellent job of gaining sympathy early on for her protagonist. In addition, she has created a whole cast of additional characters who are both believable and interesting, including Clave, who stars in the film; Sarah, the director; Noemi, who works at the hotel; a street musician, his daughter, and a monkey; and a second Noemi … but to say more would be a spoiler.

Suffice it to say instead that I happily followed Oscar through the twisty streets of Iquique and the equally twisty plot turns, and in the end, I learned some more about madness, art, devotion, kindness, hope, and new beginnings.

Review of Fae Visions of the Mediterranean: An Anthology of Horrors and Wonders of the Sea

Fae Visions of the Mediterranean: An Anthology of Horrors and Wonders of the Sea, Edited by Valeria Vitale & Djibril al-Ayad

This is the fifth Future Fire anthology that I have read. The first three—Outlaw Bodies, We See a Different Frontier, and Accessing the Future—are each linked by a common theme or idea, and the fourth one, TFF-X: Ten Years of The Future Fire, is a mix of new work and selected reprints published to celebrate the tenth year anniversary of The Future Fire magazine. The most recent anthology, Fae Visions of the Mediterranean: An Anthology of Horrors and Wonders of the Sea, is a collection of stories, poetry and artwork connected by geography rather than ideas.

I read and appreciate a fairly wide spectrum of what can be called speculative fiction, but my preferences tend to run more towards science fiction and realistic fantasy than to other sub-genres. As in art, music, and romance, there is no accounting for taste, but for some reason, stories about sea monsters and other mythic ocean creatures don’t usually float my boat (excuse the pun.) I am also not very drawn to horror. Nevertheless, though this anthology is filled with such elements, there is something about it that was pleasing to me, something that has to do with the impressively diversity of the pieces contained in the collection. Not only is there prose, poetry, and artwork, but a wide range of writing and artistic styles are also represented. The stories likewise come from a large number of nations, cultures, and traditions, all linked by their physical connection to the Mediterranean Sea.

The inclusion in the collection of many of the languages of the region was particularly effective. Though the anthology is still primarily English (and can be enjoyed by a unilingual anglophone), I appreciated the opportunity to see some work in its original regional language followed by the English translation, and the fact that in some cases the translation seemed truncated or at least secondary somehow made the story feel more authentic for me. In fact, while the collection has an almost mythic feel to it, at the same time, it seems very “grounded” in the history and legends of the Sea, thereby giving it a well-researched or even academic solidity

Here are some of my favourite pieces:

“The Miracle Town” by Mattia Ravasi: I was very drawn in by the story-telling skills of this author. I did not know what the story was about for a while (no spoilers) but it did not matter because the writing was so enjoyable, and the build and reveal were very well-done.

“The Wisps of Tabarka” by Hella Grichi: I enjoyed this both as a story and a work of art. There is a lovely integration of the original language with the English telling. It is written as a fairy tale, but not like a western fairy tale.

“Ghanja Bla Flus/A Free Song” by Maria Grech Ganado: This is a beautiful poem, filled with passion, sharp wit, and mystery.

“The Minotaur in Pamplona” by Rhys Hughes, is a well written tale filled with longing and regret, with just enough mystery mixed + foreshadowing to make the ending satisfying.

“Bilaadi by S. Chakraborty”: This is beautifully written, with a very successful use of second person narration. It is a deep, a very human story at the same time that it is a tale of gods and myths.

“The Return of Melusine” by Angela Rega is a well-told story that reads both contemporary and as an ancient myth.

Tabulit and Fair Trade Literature

slip back move forwardShort story collections, cyber-publications, literary magazines, online journals … getting a story published in any one of these places is exciting. Seeing your story in print feels good, and being paid for it as well feels even better, even if the payment is only at a semi-professional or token rate rather than the full five cents per word (still not a huge amount of money) that “pro markets” pay. I am pleased and grateful to have received such payments from the wonderful magazines and anthologies that have published my stories, publications who are themselves struggling, often with unpaid staff doing a labour of love.

I often wonder if it has to be this way, with editors and slush-readers working for free, and writers trying to eek out a living labouring at their craft early in the morning or late at night, around the “day” jobs they need to buy groceries and pay the rent. I think about living in one of those utopian worlds I like to read and write about, where writers and other artists are considered valuable members of our society, where art is recognized as necessary to a full human life, where creators of art are paid — perhaps in money, perhaps in barter with bread and housing, tools and pottery, wine and roses.

Recently, I learned about a new platform for publishing literature called Tabulit. Tabulit believes that writers should be able to earn a reliable income from their writing and acts on this belief by paying their writers a very substantial percentage of royalties while doing their best to promote the literature on their site. Tabulit is also innovative, with many ideas for using new approaches and technologies. They have begun by publishing short fiction and series (yes, serialization is back!), and hope to soon add poetry and graphic novels and perhaps even more interactive forms of storytelling.

But I will let them speak for themselves by directing you to an article on their blog containing their manifesto.

Meanwhile, I am pleased to announce that Tabulit has republished my short story “Slip Back, Move Forward.” This is a time travel story about a young man named Yusef who moves between a legal rights clinic in a near-future Montréal to when he was ten years old in Times Square, just post-9/11. To read this story, simply register with Tabulit where you will receive free tokens that can “open” stories. If you like what you see, you can purchase more tokens. Check out my story here or by first going to the site and registering. Hope you enjoy it!

2015 Expozine



I will be tabling for Deux Voiliers Publishing at this year’s Expozine! My novel will be on sale as well as a number of other DVP works, not to mention hundreds of other cool books and zines.

Here is a description of the event:

Dive into the incredible world of local and international small press, authors and artists ! Meet the “crème de la crème” of the Montreal small press scene in both official languages ! Take part in discussions about the future of the small press and support local alternative publishers !

Come to discover the latest and greatest works put out by legends of the alternative publishing scene as well as the up-and-coming stars of the next generation, many titles exclusive or printed in very limited quantities, available for the most part only at Expozine!

La foire annuelle des petits éditeurs, bande dessinées et fanzines de MONTRÉAL’s annual small press, comic and zine fair ! 

Plonger dans l’univers décalé des éditeurs, écrivains et artistes indépendants internationaux ! Rencontrer en personne le milieu des petits éditeurs montréalais, francophone et anglophone ! Participer aux échanges sur les défis du milieu et soutenir la création parallèle !

Ne ratez pas cette occasion de découvrir l’imaginaire riche et exalté de l’édition indépendante, et laissez-vous surprendre par toute la vitalité du milieu !

Hope to see you there!

Review of Signs of Subversive Innocents

Subversive_Innocents_webWhat is remarkable about Cora Siré’s poetry collection, Signs of Subversive Innocents, is both the breadth and the depth of the work: depth because so many of the poems are about much more than you think at first, and breadth because of the wide variety of subjects and issues that are addressed. There are poems about passion, rubbish, the carnal and the pure, death, irony, faith, music, dreams, art, bicycles, the politics of resistance, and more. In addition, the poems take the reader to different times and places—Hué, Buenos Aires, Franco Ontario, Mont Royal, Vermont—where you might laugh or cry, celebrate or mourn, but always, where you are rewarded with a deeper knowledge of things that are important both to you and to the world, a knowledge for which you sense the poet has fought hard, or that others have.

Not only is there a wide breadth of subject matter, but the collection contains poetry of many diverse styles. I found this refreshing since certain poetry collections can feel a little dull to me after a while if the types of poems and topics they address tend to be too similar. Although I cannot name all of the styles used in the collection, some of the types of poetry I noticed included concrete or pattern poetry, list poems, prose poetry, free verse, refrain poetry, lament, and (I think) eclogue and verse paragraph.

Despite the diversity in style, place and subject matter, the other thing that is great about this collection is how it functions as a whole. There is a certain underlying structure that, while I can’t describe exactly how it works, leaves the reader satisfied. I found myself thinking that yes, there is loss and injustice and ugliness in the world, but there is also art and beauty and love, and it is important to continue the struggle for these things, and for people to write beautifully about these struggles.

Below are some of my favourite poems from the collection:

“In Exile”
“Rendition n (often followed by of)”
“Étapes (décembre)”
“Cordillera Midnight”

Interview with Jennifer Marie Brissett, author of Elysium


This is an Interview with Jennifer Marie Brissett, author of Elysium, which was the winner of the Philip K. Dick Award Special Citation, placed on the James Tiptree Jr. Award Honor List, and shortlisted for the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Her short story, “Nasmina’s Black Box,” first published by The Future Fire in 2009, will be featured in the upcoming 10th Anniversary Anthology of the Future Fire Magazine.

My own short story, “Je me souviens,” will also appear in the same anthology.

Su J. Sokol: I first became familiar with your work through your short story “Secrets of the Sea,” finalist for the storySouth Millions Writers Award. “Secrets of the Sea” came out in 2012 in the same edition of The Future Fire in which my own story and first publication, “Je me souviens,” appeared. How about you? Had you had many stories published at the time that “Nasmina’s Black Box” was published by The Future Fire in 2009?

Jennifer Marie Brissett: I remember reading your story and being struck by how refreshing it was, how exciting. 2009 was the year I first had any of my work published. My story “The Executioner” was published that year as well. I also started grad school that year, so it did feel like my career was finally moving in the right direction.

SJS: How did you learn about The Future Fire? Why did you choose to submit your story there?

JMB: I was a devout user of the submission engine Duotrope at that time. I liked The Future Fire for its tag line: “Social Political & Speculative Cyber-Fiction.” Not many magazines make the point of saying that they are about political stories. In fact, I find the SF&F field in general is quite cowardly in this respect. People are actually fighting—right now—to stay mute on issues and be all about the laser gun “pew-pew.” I mean, what’s wrong with people? Haven’t they read H. G. Wells? And if they read him, did they understand? Like, at all??? How in the world do you talk about the future and not deal with the ramifications of what we are doing today? Your brain and soul have to be turned off to do that. I appreciate that The Future Fire is a magazine that refuses to be that way. They constantly select stories with passion and vision. It makes them a unique and very special place in a field where so many lack of those qualities.

SJS: I have read your two TFF stories and loved them both, but I am going to focus right now on “Secrets of the Sea,” so no chance of spoilers for the anniversary anthology. 😉 One of the things that most impressed me about that story was the combination of simplicity and depth, like looking down over the side of a boat into a clear body of water and suddenly realizing that it’s huge and vast and that there’s a whole world down there. Which is pretty much what, in a way, literally happens in that story. How did you first come up with your story idea?

JMB: I had just seen the film short That Which Once Was. I was touched by the relationship in that film between the boy and the artist, and its depiction of some of the environmental effects of global warming on people of color. Somehow I found myself thinking about Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” and then the story began taking shape in my mind.

SJS: “Secrets of the Sea” at first seems like a simple tale, but the reader soon sees that there is more to this story than initially meets the eye, including elements of surrealism and time travel/alternative world-hopping. In an almost aesthetic way, it reminds me a bit of your fabulous novel, Elysium. Were you already working on that novel at the time you wrote “Secrets of the Sea”?

JMB: I had already finished Elysium by the time I wrote “Secrets of the Sea.” I didn’t think that they had a relationship at all. Well, other than that I wrote them. Maybe that’s just where my headspace was. I read the anthology Feeling Very Strange around that time (and was shocked that soon after reading it one of the co-editors, James Patrick Kelly, was to become my grad school mentor!) and I really liked the slipstream nature of reading a story and having it give you “the feels,” like you’re not reading a story, the story is happening to you.

SJS: It is certainly true that both stories are very immersive. Another thing I would say about your writing is that it is strikingly original. Despite that, it is hard to resist the urge to think about other writers who might have influenced another writer’s work. For instance, while reading “Nasmina’s Black Box,” I thought of Canada’s own Nalo Hopkinson. Elysium made me think about David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, a book I loved though I didn’t enjoy the movie at all. What authors, if any, have influenced you? Can you name some authors whom you admire?

JMB: There are so many, Toni Morrison being one of the biggest because it was through her work that I realized that literature can exist with a black person at its center. I didn’t realize that until I read Song of Solomon. I didn’t even realize people like me were missing until there they were staring back at me on the pages of her novels. Other writers that have influenced my work are Gloria Naylor, James Baldwin, Jeffrey Ford, Sherman Alexie, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Octavia E. Butler. There are many others, but these are the ones that always come to mind first.

SJS: Yes, Song of Solomon is so awesome! I read it ages and hundreds and hundreds of books ago and I still think about it sometimes. Like you, I have also been very affected by the works of Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia E. Butler, among other writers of speculative fiction. Why do you choose to write (or read) speculative fiction? What is it about the genre that draws you? What do you think of the genre/literary binary?

JMB: I’ve always read widely and I don’t always write speculative stories. I mostly do, though. I love the freedom of being able to cross all the boundaries. I love the idea of exploring places that never were and digging deep to find meaning there. I really don’t think there is a genre/literary binary. There’s a good/bad writing binary.

SJS: Well said! I have also always enjoyed reading widely, and good is good, whatever the genre that’s been assigned to the story. At the same time, I also have a special love of fiction with speculative elements. As a woman of color writing SFF, what do you think about the way this genre is or is not evolving? What are your thoughts about your place in that world, or the place of other racialized, genderized or otherwise marginalized groups?

JMB: It’s been weird and not what I expected. Writing as a woman of color for me is a very solid place to be, since I have so many other women of color to look to who have done amazing work both in genre and mainstream literature. I feel like it’s an honor and a privilege to do this work. I can’t always tell when my work is rejected if it was because a woman of color wrote it. It’s most likely that they just don’t like my work, but there are times in the back of my mind I wonder…

Also beyond being a woman of color, I am an artist. I feel a responsibility to be true to my own vision. Sometimes that vision upsets some people. There are a lot of know-it-all know-nothings running around out there and I’m struggling to tune most of them out. I’ve been called a promoter of the “homosexual agenda,” a bigot, a “transhomophobe,” etc. I suppose I should accept this as a mark that I did something right because I seem to have made a range of people mad. That’s what art does. Art makes those asleep jolt awake. Either you dig deep and try to understand what the art is saying, or you shut down with your own preconceived notions. It can also make some project their own stuff onto the work. So I think my burden is to not take on the burdens of others. With that, I don’t read stuff about my work on the internet that much anymore. Sometimes I slip and I always regret it later. I will simply continue to write and try my best to ignore the rest.

SJS: Please do keep the writing coming. I am a big fan! What role, if any, do you feel publications like The Future Fire have to play in the SFF literary world? Or in the world in general?

JMB: On the personal side, TFF has been critical to my career. It was the first magazine to publish my work. In this field where the reading can be shallow, it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s a place where literature and meaning are married. There needs to be more magazines like it. More places with vision and guts to print the not-easy stories.

SJS: I feel the same way. Have you read any of the excellent anthologies that The Future Fire has published (Outlaw Bodies, We See a Different Frontier, Accessing the Future)? Are you excited about being in the 10th Anniversary Anthology?

JMB: They are all on my tablet waiting to be read. (I recently moved and am so behind on my reading!) And I am OVER THE MOON to be in the 10th Anniversary Anthology!!

SJS: Is there anything else that you would like to share with readers?

JMB: Read The Future Fire and buy/support the Tenth Anniversary Anthology!! You’ll be glad you did.TFFX

Readers can connect with Jennifer Marie Brissett or learn more about her work as follows:

Reading and Diversity Challenges

MTI4Mjk5NDIyMjQ4Mzc2Nzk4A few weeks ago, I saw an article on Facebook that caught my attention. It challenged people to stop reading white, straight, cis male authors for one year. To me, this didn’t sound like a very difficult challenge; it sounded like fun. I was just about to say something to that effect, or at least to “like” the link, when I remembered my promise to myself not to comment on articles I hadn’t first read. Since I had a few minutes, I clicked on it. The author—K. Tempest Bradford—is a writer, blogger, critic and activist who often speaks out on issues that touch upon the intersection of race, gender and sexuality. I found her arguments to be very reasonable. I then noticed that, at the end of the piece,  there were three lists of suggestions to get you started—one of women writers, one of writers of colour, and one of writers in translation. I got up to leave for work while quickly skimming the lists to see I had read any of the suggested authors. I sat down with a thud. To my great surprise, I saw my own novel, Cycling to Asylum, on the list of speculative fiction novels written by women. Wow! Was I glad that I bothered to read this article!

Later that day, I read the piece more carefully. Unfortunately, I also started scrolling through the comments on the bottom. The article had engendered a huge response—over 2500 comments—and it seemed to me that many of the commenters hadn’t even bothered to read what the writer had to say. Some of the comments were simply responding to the lead photo—a picture of the author, K. Tempest Bradford, holding a copy Neil Gaiman’s novel, American Gods, a book that I have read. In the photo, the book is circled with a cross-out symbol through it, and Tempest Bradford is wagging her finger. It’s cute and was obviously meant to be tongue-in-cheek.

I think this was a brilliant choice on her part—to pick an extremely popular white male author with a reputation for being cool. He was unlikely to feel threatened by her challenge. In fact, Neil Gaiman commented on article, saying that he thought it was great and that he didn’t mind being the “posterbook” for what not to read. Yet, almost all the initial comments were either from people livid at the idea of being asked not to read Neil Gaiman (even for a year) or who were boycotting Neil Gaiman because of being angry with his wife (referring to her by that title and not by her actual name, Amanda Palmer.) How ironic and sad that a discussion about whether to read authors who are not straight, white men for a year is derailed by gossip about a popular white, male author’s wife!

I should have stopped reading there, because what followed made me nostalgic for gossip about Amanda Palmer. Vicious, ignorant, ugly—these are just some of the words I would use to describe a large number of the later comments. People called the author of the article a nazi, a racist, and made reference to the Spanish Inquisition. I won’t even mention some of the other comments that demean her in more personal, cruel, and adolescent ways. You would think that she was coming into these people’s homes, burning their books and torturing them until they agreed to read different ones. This is a challenge and a challenge can always be refused. The author even suggests that people adapt the challenge to their own particular needs or desires.  For instance, an immigrant like myself could decide to read more Canadian fiction, or to read Québecois literature in the original French.

In fact, this challenge has gotten me to think about my own reading habits. It was my father who was my original model—the big reader in the family—so as a kid, I read what he read, which was largely books written by white, Jewish men, or spy novels suggested by the Book-of-the-month club. I enjoyed these books back then, but as an adult, I began concentrating more on science fiction. I loved this genre, but often felt there was something missing. Some Golden Age science fiction seemed almost laughable to me, even when I was young. How can it be that we are flying around the galaxy in spaceships, travelling through time, and making robots with artificial intelligence, yet women are still staying home, getting married, taking their husband’s names, and raising the kids? Why aren’t they in the spaceships? These books did not age well. It aggravated me that a book about the future was so lacking in social imagination that it sounded more like the past.

When I discovered Ursula K. Le Guin, I found out what had been missing. I began reading more women authors. I stumbled across Octavia Butler and my world opened still wider. I began reading more writers of colour, men as well as women, and not just speculative fiction. I was enjoying authors from other parts of the world as well, particularly literature from India and Latin America. Around that time, I belonged to a book club. We were mostly women and ended up reading a lot of “Oprah books.” I liked these books well enough at first, but began tiring of them the way you tire of eating too much rich, sweet food. I went back to reading male authors as well as women authors and learned that many of my favourites were queer. The more different types of authors I read–particularly writers from marginalized communities–the more I tended to enjoy the work. This makes sense if you are a person who questions authority and thinks that the world needs to change. It also makes sense if you crave diversity and want to learn about different societies and experiences.

The way in which I diversified my reading was not based on a challenge, but rather, was more a natural process. But what if someone came and challenged me to start reading a category of authors I hadn’t read before? Would this make me angry? Defensive? Abusive towards the person making this suggestion? What does it mean that this is the way in which so many peopled have reacted to this challenge?

At first, I felt discouraged by the response to the article and to similar reading challenges. I still feel angry and disappointed, but I have also begun to see it in another way. People become defensive when they feel threatened, and they often feel threatened when we’ve reached a tipping point. Maybe the fact that so many people reacted in this way means that they are nervous because things are changing. It does seem to me that the stranglehold that mainstream writers–often male, white and straight–have had on the world is loosening. I will celebrate this hopeful trend by finding a challenge that makes me sweat a little too.

To read the original article, go to xojane, a popular women’s online magazine. The article was also republished by Time Magazine under the less controversial title: What I Learned by Adding Diversity to My Reading List.

It Takes a Community

I am not a blogger, but when Dyane Forde — who’d interviewed me after the publication of my first novel, Cycling to Asylum — asked me if I wanted to guest blog on her site, I agreed. I’d been thinking a lot about the role that writing groups have played in improving my writing, and more than that, how they have become a very important part of my day-to-day life. I am grateful to Dyane for helping me to articulate both my thoughts and my gratitude to the members of my groups. You can read the beginning of the piece here:

It was my friend Sharon who invited me to my first writers’ group meeting.writing group
This was the spring before my year-long writing sabbatical, a sabbatical I had earned over a period of three years by working full-time while having 25% of my salary put aside. Those three years were difficult, and the wait before I could start writing the novel I’d been imagining was frustrating. I tried to convince myself that I was in some kind of important pre-writing phase. I made a list of things I needed to do. In my ignorance, the list was pretty short: Join the Québec Writers Federation. Buy a laptop computer. Take a fiction workshop. Now I had another item I could add: Join a writing group…. (Read the rest of the piece here.)

Review of Peter Dubé’s Beginning with the Mirror

When I agreed to review Peter Dubé’s latest book, I thought it would be a change of pace from the usual interstitial/speculative fiction that I love to read and review. In fact, the more familiar I become with Dubé’s work,  the more I realize that it is yet another delicious flavour of interstitial writing.  The book is self-described as “stories about love, desire and moving between worlds.”  Indeed, moving between worlds is a key characteristic of interstitial writing.

Without further ado, here is the review:

Peter Dubé’s latest book is a layered, nuanced work that engages both the intellect and the heart. Beginning with the Mirror consists of ten short pieces, but calling the book a collection of stories seems too haphazard a way of describing how these interstitial tales of love and desire fit together….  (Read the rest of the review here on Matrix Magazine’s online supplement.)