The Arbitrator 4000

My story The Arbitrator 4000 has been published in Metastellar. What an honour to be published in one of the top sci-fi magazines on the market. Thank you to editor Marie Ginga for making the process so easy.

The Arbitrator 4000 originally appeared in my self-published collection of stories “The Human Experience” and was instantly one of the most popular stories in the collection, balancing science-fiction with a touch of humour.

Following an editor’s advice, I removed the first few paragraphs from the original draft in order to get to the heart of the story quicker. I think this small change has made a big difference.

This story foretells a world in which the accused are tried by emotionless machines. Other jobs such as investigators and solicitors have also fallen under robotic control.

Does this deference to machines bode well for humanity or does it strip the ability to consider human factors when making judgments? As with lots of sci-fi, this story aims to raise as many questions as it answers. As always, I’d love to know what you think.

A Life in Numbers

My latest story A Life in Numbers is available in Door is A Jar’s 19th edition in digital or print formats. Thank you to editor Maxwell Bauman for compiling this group of 40 bite-sized stories and poems from contributors worldwide. I look forward to reading through them shortly.

I was drawn to Door is A Jar in part because of their maxim that work should be accessible, using familiar language that can be understood by all readers. Too many publications confuse complexity with good writing and engaging stories.

I used a framing device to structure this story, with each paragraph preceded by a short statement comprised of a number. This format carries throughout the piece, as we learn more about the unnamed narrator’s difficult relationship with their controlling father.

Many of my stories were rejected multiple times before finding a home, but A Life in Numbers was accepted by the first magazine I sent it to. Maybe this means my writing is improving or maybe I’m doing a better job at matching story to publication. Or perhaps it was just good fortune. Either way, I’m happy to have placed this piece and looking forward to sharing more writing in the future.

The Hare in the Dish

My latest story The Hare in the Dish is available to read for free in the Blue Lake Review. Thank you to editor Mitchell Waldman for accepting me into this prestigious literary publication.

Many of my recent stories have been flash fiction (<1000 words), so I’m excited to share this longer story, which runs just shy of 4,000 words. My initial draft of this story was about half as long but after receiving feedback that the story felt unfinished, I kept working on it until I reached a more natural conclusion.

In many ways this story differs from my typical work, in that it’s best classified as a suspense or mystery, genres I don’t usually attempt (although perhaps I should). Further, the story is set in the world of high dining, which is certainly not somewhere I find myself. I don’t eat out often, but when I do I prefer somewhere more laid back (not fast food mind you, but also not a place where the server would pull out your chair).

In other senses, you’ll find much of my typical writing style in this story. There are tense family dynamics, a bad pun (the lead character’s name, no less) and a character who needs to ease up on the liquor.

I’m always interested in hearing what people think about my stories and the magazines they’re published in. Please leave a comment or send me an email with any feedback, good or bad. And don’t forget to subscribe to the blog so you’ll be notified every time I make a new post. Happy long weekend to those here in Canada.

The Floor is Made of Lava

Check out my latest story, The Floor is Made of Lava, published by Close to the Bone, a UK imprint that focuses on crime fiction. A big thank you to editor Craig Douglas, who was easy and enjoyable to work with.

The Floor is Made of Lava tells the story of a fictional drug called magma that burns users from the inside out. It was a fun challenge as a writer to imagine a new drug, determine how it would work, figure out what the side effects would be, etc.

This story began while visiting friends in Vancouver. On my last day in the city, the friend I was staying with had to spend the morning in his office. As he worked, I sat in a coffee shop planning my entry for the NYC midnight writing contest I had entered that was due later that week.

Downtown Vancouver has a problem with drugs and homelessness, and as I was considering the contest prompts, the idea for the story took place. It’s devastating to see all the lost souls in a beautiful city like Vancouver. The night before we had seen a show in an old firehouse and across the street was a large, partially flooded, tent city. The living conditions were horrid and people were walking around in a daze.

The disconnect between such wealth and poverty is hard to fathom. The war on drugs has failed and we need to treat addiction like the health problem it is. This story goes out to everyone who has struggled with drugs or to those who have lost friends and family to addiction. Be well and stay safe.

Tiger’s Nuts

My latest story Tiger’s Nuts is now available to read on Fiction on the Web. Working with editor Charlie Fish was easy. He was quick to respond to my submission and enthusiastic about the story.

I appreciate Fiction on the Web for their engaged community of readers, frequent stories (twice a week), and lengthy publishing history (their website states they’ve been posting fiction since 1996 making it the oldest continuous online short story venue, having posted thousands of stories to millions of readers).

Tiger’s Nuts doesn’t hold back. I remember one reader telling me that if anyone says it’s too vulgar then they haven’t read Naked Lunch, the novel that the characters discuss in their monthly book club. Channeling the madness of Burroughs’ source material was fun and in a way rather freeing.

Amongst the madness, you’ll meet a group of high school friends trying to stay connected despite life taking them in different directions. These are not the sort of characters you might expect to hold a book club (particularly the incorrigible Tiger who eschews social etiquette and lives, quite literally, in a ‘balls to the wall’ fashion), but this disconnect only adds to the fun.

I tried to keep readers unaware as to what was coming next, punctuating the story with a moment that will not soon be forgotten. If I don’t leave you wanting a hot shower and a course of antibiotics after having read this story, then I haven’t done my job.

Representing Canada

It was such an honour to represent Canada in the virtual Can-Am Scrabble matchup this past weekend!

I had originally applied to play in the live version of the event to be held in Montreal, but I was the sixth qualifier for only five spots and so I had just missed the cut.

Fortunately for me, when COVID made the live event impossible, it was moved online and two people dropped out, thus opening up a spot for me to compete.

Somehow, even though I was at risk of not qualifying, I managed to be the highest placing Canadian in my division, finishing in 5th place with a record of 7-8.

Unfortunately, the stacked American team crushed Canada en route to victory. Congrats to them on a job well done.

I played three games against each of my five American counterparts. Surprisingly, I went 2-1 against the top 2 seeds (including a former world champion!) and 1-2 against the 3rd-5th seeds. Scrabble is funny like that!

I had a fun time competing in these tournaments these past two weekends, but at the same time they’ve been rather draining. Time to wind down and give the old brain some time to recharge.

Scrabble Victory

This past weekend I competed in what was billed as the largest Scrabble tournament of the decade. It was also the biggest Scrabble tournament I’m aware of that’s ever been held online (92 entrants from 11 countries), as online play only really took off since COVID.

Despite a very competitive field, I managed to go 11-2 +1311 to win the top NWL division of 36 players! I am beyond excited about this result. It’s my first two-day tournament win, and I managed to clinch victory with one round remaining.

This was a big turnaround from my first Scrabble tournament of the year in which I went 0-5 -775, finishing in last place in the top division.

This dichotomy is Scrabble in a nutshell. One day you draw good tiles and win, the next you draw poorly and lose. It’s important to stay focused on improvement over the long term as any individual tournament can be biased by the sample size.

Next up I will compete for Canada in the Can-Am tournament. Will be an honour to represent my country for the first time, win or lose. I will try and focus on remaining calm and making good decisions and letting the tiles fall where they may.

Rejections (the better kind)

If you submit to literary journals, be prepared to be rejected. The more prestigious (and paying) magazines will only accept a small fraction of submissions (sometimes less than one percent). An overworked editor may receive hundreds of submissions and can only accept a handful for publication. Even if your story is great, chances are you will be rejected. It’s simple math.

Most of the time, you will receive a simple form rejection thanking you for submitting but declining your work. Occasionally, you’ll receive a higher level form letter that indicates somehow your piece showed promise and encouraging you to submit more.

On rare occasions, you will receive a personalized response from the editor rejecting your story but providing their feedback. You may or may not agree with their thoughts, but you should be thankful that someone took the time to respond. At the very least take comfort in knowing that at least they read your work!

As an emerging writer myself, I’ve found a lot of value in these responses, even when they’re no more than a sentence or two. But other times the feedback can be quite personal, detailed, and helpful. I want to thank a few editors who haven’t published my work but who have given me direction.

Keith Cork and the rest of the team at The Colored Lens: Keith’s recent comments on one of my stories gave such strong feedback that I can’t wait to rework the piece. He wrote a very lengthy paragraph explaining what he liked but also why he was rejecting it. The Colored Lens will provide a personalized response to all submissions but typically provide more detailed feedback to pieces that are closer to acceptance.

Dylan Brie Ducey at Anti-Heroin Chic: Anti-Heroin Chic bills itself as a space safe for those recovering from addiction or those affected by addiction in some way. This is a heavy subject but Dylan responded in a warm and caring manner, matching the friendly environment they are trying to create.

Rick Taubold at Fabula Argentea Magazine: Fabula Argentea is one of the magazines under the Silver Pen Writers umbrella and I believe they all provide personalized responses. With Rick, I appreciate his candour. In one submission, he told me he liked the piece but unfortunately due to the number of quality submissions they get, he has to turn away pieces that he deems worthy of publication. For another submission, he was fairly blunt in saying the story started slow and then didn’t really go anywhere. (If you dislike the feedback, you don’t have to follow it–the comments are just one person’s opinion in a highly subjective field–but when the initial sting of the response subsides, look at your story with fresh eyes and see if there’s anything to learn from the comments. Chances are there will be. In my case, Rick was right. The story did start slow and I’ve begun to rework it.)

I am thankful for any feedback from editors. They don’t owe me anything other than the courtesy to read and consider my submission. I owe them much more than that. Their countless hours (often unpaid) of hard work to help publish writers like myself does not go unnoticed, and for that I thank them.

Smokelong Quarterly

One of my favourite things about my recent excursion into writing has been perusing the different literary magazines.

Some of the top publications can be somewhat dense or confusing; I’ve heard the term ‘academic jigsaw puzzle’ used to describe stories where it’s not entirely clear what’s happening.

But certain publications find the right balance between pushing the literary envelope while still presenting stories that are accessible to the average reader.

Smokelong Quarterly stands out above the competition. Each issue, they have several stories that really make you stop and think.

Here are two of my favourite stories from their recent issues that I wanted to share.

The first story is What Wasn’t Swallowed Was Exhaled by Tucker-Leighty Phillips. Tucker has a unique way of seeing the world and it comes through in his prose. In this heartbreaking tale, he uses the tangible nature of dust to show the protagonist’s sense of loss. His descriptions throughout the piece are truly poetic.

The second story is From Your Jerry by Kevin Sterne. This story also deals with loss but from a completely different angle. As the protagonist attempts to make amends to his late mother, the story becomes increasingly absurd until we’re left with nothing but emotion.

One fun thing about Smokelong is they have author interviews with each piece, so if you enjoy the stories, take a moment to check out the writer’s own thoughts.

The Human Experience

In 2018, I released a compilation of my short stories. I named the collection “The Human Experience” after the story that I thought best captured the overall mood of the book.

Some of my writer friends told me I was foolish to self-publish, as it meant I was giving away first publication rights and thus most magazines would never later accept these stories. That is certainly something to consider, but at the time I wanted to share my stories with friends and family, and I have no regrets.

The good news is that some magazines are willing to accept reprints. Case in point: After Dinner Conversations, led by the editor Kolby Granville.

After Dinner Conversations has taken the literary world by storm by creating not just a publication but a concept. Each story is meant to provoke philosophical conversation, and Kolby prepares five probing questions to accompany each story.

I thought he did a great job at elucidating the moral dilemmas in my story. Is it right to genetically alter an unborn child? It’s hard to say. The story brings up many questions of morality and After Dinner Conversations was the perfect avenue to highlight them.

The Human Experience is currently behind a paywall, but I strongly suggest you purchase the February edition of After Dinner Conversations to read my story and the works of other talented authors. The lead story in the issue questions what the world would be like if humans no longer required sleep. It’s really quite fascinating. One of the best stories I’ve read in ages.