Friday, 31 December 2021

Books I Liked: 2021 Edition

Ok, so, I missed making a list last year, but I'm back to it again now. This list, as ever, is not necessarily of books or collections that were published in the year, but are among what I actually read during the year, keeping in mind my to-read reach will forever exceed the number of hours in my days.

This year was spectacularly awful in so many ways, both personally and globally, but, as ever, books have helped guide, distract, amuse, centre and engage me, pulling me out of myself when I need it most, and encouraging me to reflect in ways large and small. I hope you've found ones to do the same for you.

First on my otherwise in no order list this year is One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston. This was a brilliant, creative, sexy, funny and an all-around queer must-read. I won't go into more detail here, but if you liked McQuiston's debut Red, White & Royal Blue, you will love One Last Stop. It is more queer, more diverse, more class aware, and, despite also being speculative fiction involving psychics and time travel, more deeply real.


Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (technically YA, but brilliant for any age) not only tells a captivating and exciting story, but has fierce, complex and engaging trans and queer main characters and one of the best examples I can recall of interplay between two languages, in this case Spanish and American English. River of Teeth, a novella by Sarah Gailey, is not only highly creative but will make you care deeply about its entire cast of characters very quickly. I'm listing it here with the caveat that it has an abrupt ending, but the fact that it's labelled "#1" gives me hope there will be a follow-up to take us on more of the characters' journey after the central adventure of the novella has ended. 


Dearest Milton James, a romance across two eras, wrapped in sweet humour and a fundamental understanding of queer history) by Australian author N.R. Walker also stood out for me this year in fiction, as did TJ Klune's
House in the Cerulean Sea, which my entire family has been recommending to anyone who will listen ever since each of us read it. 


This year, I tore through all three books (a fourth came out in December and I have it on order already) in the queer, historical urban fantasy
Magic in Manhattan series by Allie Thieren. The series came recommended by my good friend Kathleen, to whom I am forever grateful. I equally enjoyed reading further this year in the fabulous Whyborne & Griffin series, by Jordan L. Hawk, in the same genre.


My favourite delayed read this year was Christian Baines'
Puppet Boy, which I finally got to, having somehow previously omitted it while reading the rest of Christian's books ages ago. Puppet Boy reads like a far more insightful, keenly intelligent and more richly layered When Everything Feels Like the Movies. Do not skip this book.


I read two classics, in particular, this year that will stay with me for all eter nity and that I think should both be taught in school (perhaps replacing some other "classics"): the 1956 novel of bisexuality and exported Americana Giovanni's Room by the iconic James Baldwin, and Parable of the Sower, the first in the dystopic Earthseed series by brilliant and heraldic science fiction author Octavia E. Butler. I remain deeply resentful of myself and of the social constructs that lead me to be well into my 40s by the time I read either of these authors. Do not make the same mistakes I did.


My absolute favourite poetry of the year has been Pebble Swing, by Isabella Wang. Her talent is spectacular, and that she has such a wise and insightful approach to language and life at such a young age is practically alarming. Hustling Verse: An Anthology of Sex Workers' Poetry (eds. Amber Dawn and Justin Ducharmes) I actually read and reviewed for Arc Poetry Magazine last year, but it deserves to be on one of these lists. It's an excellent poetry collection from voices we don't usually hear from, but should. David Ly's queer, speculative poetry collection Mythical Man was a stand-out for me as well, with its somehow both economical and ornate use of language, and its magical allegories of queerness and being via a world of mystery and monsters.


In graphic novels, I loved the latest trade in the Monstress series by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, which only gets more interesting as it goes on. Due to shipping and retailer issues, I have not read the latest trade yet. I've been doing my best to avoid all spoilers as a result, which sometimes means fleeing Twitter at the drop of a reference. I have to say, only slightly begrudgingly, that I was also honestly impressed by the Pride collections that both DC and Marvel put out this year. There is so far to go still, but the big houses have certainly come a long way. 

Lastly, I want to mention a book I've started reading but haven't finished yet, since I just received it for Christmas. Bi the Way: The Bisexual Guide to Life, by UK bi+ rights advocate Lo Shearing, receives a mention because I've been looking forward to it since I heard Shearing was working on it, and not only because they quote me in it (it's admittedly a rather depressing quote; but the book as a whole looks extremely inspiring, combining honest assessment of a world full of biphobia and erasure, with a sense of celebration and hope).

 


All these entries are tips of reading and genre icebergs, and though I don't tally my reads, I read way more this year, and enjoyed far more books and stories, than I've listed here. My apologies to everyone whose work moved me but that my end-of-year brain won't let me recall right now. Please all feel free to comment with books you've read this year and recommend, too.

Monday, 6 April 2020

Highlights from Scrolling Through the Darkness

I had run out of metaphorical spoons even before COVID-19 shooed us all inside, so the first few weeks were not what I'd envisioned for A vs an Apocalypse. Instead, I, like many, spent a lot of my time on the couch or in bed, occasionally managing to function enough to answer a phone call or make a meal.

One thing that has helped me restart, and that keeps many of us engaged, or at least a bit connected still to the world, is the arts, in all its forms. I haven't made much of it in this time, but friends and family have shared their favourites, and I've watched and read and and listened, to the fluff and to the serious, and everything in between. In case it helps you, I've made some lists of writing, sites, news outlets, and access to financial supports for Canadian artists, below. As Amanda Parris says in her CBC essay:

"Artists are constantly forced to prove their value and worth to governments and voters. This lockdown should be a wake-up call to all of us who are leaning on these creatives now: arts and culture needs to be an unwavering national priority."

Stay safe and be well. Even apart, we need to be in this together.

Arts & Entertainment

I recently prattled on in a column for Write Magazine, the quarterly publication for members of The Writers' Union of Canada, about mental health in the writing community and how many of the expectations, above and beyond good writing, are magnified and intersect with other barriers to create daunting obstacles for many writers. My essay from this past winter, in Hamilton Arts & Letters' disability poetics issue, Imaginary Safe House, on bisexuality, isolation and mental illness, also feels more relevant than ever, now that we are all isolated.

If you're the kind of person who follows this blog, you probably don't lack for reading materials at home right now, but if you don't have yourself a copy of Hustling Verse: An Anthology of Sex Workers' Poetry yet (ed. Amber Dawn, Justin Ducharme), please read my review for Arc Poetry Magazine explaining why you should.

If you feel like you could use an evening (or afternoon, or morning, or 2 a.m.) at a poetry reading, micropublishing powerhouse rob mclennan has launched an online virtual reading series as part of his new Periodicities journal of poetry and poetics, and the amazing Tara Skurtu, from her poetry outpost in Romania, has launched the International Poetry Circle, which you can also follow on Twitter.

I was ridiculously honoured this spring to be included in the International Day of Pink's first colouring book, Colouring with Pride: 12 trans and queer Canadians you should know (PDF). Print it; colour it; read about amazing community organizers, leaders and artists like Arielle Twist, Libby Davies and Danny Ramadan; and check out each entry's "Keep learning" section.

News & Information

It's been hard to find news coverage that could be considered remotely unbiased during the pandemic, much as it was beforehand, but so far I have been impressed by coverage from the independent British newspaper The Guardian and by the English arm of Al Jazeera. Please remember to support independent media.

If you aren't tuned into the magazine's awesomeness yet, I also recommend subscribing to if you can, or at least visiting the website for, This Magazine. The bimonthly, Canadian socialist news and arts magazine has a broad range of unique, inclusive and highly relevant news, features, art coverage and opinion pieces.

I am also, in fits and starts, watching this webinar, organized by the World Bank, on Universal Basic Income as an approach to the coronavirus crisis and beyond.

Money & Help

Canadian emergency funding does exist for some Canadians, if you can get to it behind the curtain of red tape, through the Employment Insurance program and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

Writers falling between the cracks in those systems can apply to the Canadian Writers' Emergency Relief Fund, organized by the Writers' Trust of Canada, while performing artists whose tours and shows have been canceled due to the pandemic can apply to the National Arts Centre's #CanadaPerforms. If you're a creator for stage or screen, you may be able to access the CBC Creative Relief Fund.

LGBTQ2IA+ and local communities have also been coordinating funding for those not served, either yet or likely at all, by more institutional systems, particularly freelance and contract workers, artists of all kinds, sex workers, and other precariously employed workers. If you can help, or if you need money, go to:

Glad Day Lit Emergency Survival Fund

Kindspace Ottawa's Community Care emergency fund to meet short-term needs for $100 or less was at capacity at the time of this posting, but please contact them if you are able to donate so they can continue helping LGBTQ2IA+ Ottawans in need.

Also in the world of money, though admittedly less and longer-term, Access Copyright's Payback is open for this year. If you are a Canadian writer or visual artist, register your print publications from 2018 or earlier before May 31, 2020. Payments are usually distributed in November.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

A Difficult Essay to Write: On Anxiety, Depression, Bisexuality and Isolation

Frog Hollow Press and Hamilton Arts & Letters have co-produced an amazing new anthology, Imaginary Safe House, as number 11 in Frog Hollow's Dis/ability Series.


I am honoured to have a personal essay in this magnificent collection of work by deaf, disabled, neurodiverse and mentally ill poets. My essay, "Leaving a light on," is about my history with both anxiety and depression, and the relationship to my bisexuality and to isolation. 

This was one of the hardest things I've ever written, and I'm very grateful to Imaginary Safe House co-editor, Roxanna Bennett, for her editorial guidance and her kindness.

Released last week, the book explores themes of disability and poetics, and how and where the two connect. The press is publishing a very limited number of printed copies, so buy one soon if you want to own one. 

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

My Writing Sabbatical: Ten Months and Twenty-One Days in Review

The end of my one-year writing sabbatical (a sabbatical to write, not from writing, though it's felt like the latter sometimes) in September is looming like a guillotine at the bottom of a water slide.


Which means I've, of course, started focusing on everything I haven't done (like maintaining this blog). My spouse keeps reminding me, as patiently as he can, of everything I have managed to do over the past 11 months, from hanging out more with our kid, friends and extended family, to fixing things around the house and garden, to traveling, to finishing the first and then second draft of a novel.

I know focusing mainly on the negative (and the spiraled thinking that then follows) is part of my anxiety disorder, but knowing is not actually half the battle, because it rarely helps steer me away from the road to self-recrimination and the certainty that I'm a complete failure in every way. So, I hope you don't mind if I list some of the good from this year, both to point you to some cool things you may want to check out, and to remind myself they exist.

Aside from writing, including some new short stories for the first time in ages, and reading (hopefully I'll manage a subsequent post on some of my favourite reads from this year), I've been editing for poets and fiction writers, writing articles, and reviewing for Arc Poetry Magazine and Room. Most recently, I had the incredible honour of being the Arts editor for the September/October issue of This Magazine. The issue's Arts section will cover visual, audio and literary artists each exploring new ways to connect with audiences.

One of my favourite literary parts of this year was starting it in Toronto, reading at the Bi Arts Festival's 2018 Author Showcase, and having poetry published in the festival's Crush zine. The lineup for the 2019 reading sounds fantastic, and the call for submissions for this year's Crush closes September 1.

A series of my poems on the recovered suitcases of the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane (based on the photographs by Jon Crispin, who I also had the chance to talk to this year) were published in the stunning issue 11 of Experiment-0:



Another highlight was reading at the Ottawa launch of Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem Anthology (Mansfield Press, 2018) last fall, organized by my same long-patient spouse, the author and poet James K. Moran, and meeting several of the other contributors, including some incredible survivors.

James and I were also recently interviewed on The Small Machine Talks, hosted by Amanda Earl.

Many other things have happened during the past 11 months, both good and bad, but the most important thing about this time away from my regular day job has been the opportunity tosometimes, at leaststop, and breath, and think, and recover. I realize how privileged I am to have had the opportunity to do this. So I'm trying not to feel I've wasted it by not managing to do absolutely everything a human could do in one year.


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)

Chapters.ca (shop online, for ebook or print edition)
Amazon. ca (shop online, for ebook or print edition)
Amazon.com (shop online, for ebook or print edition)

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



Books I Liked: 2021 Edition

Ok, so, I missed making a list last year, but I'm back to it again now. This list, as ever, is not necessarily of books or collections t...