I Believe I Can Pie!

So, I like pie. A lot. I mean, this is non-controversial; lots of us really enjoy pie.

I also like to bake. A lot. Again, many of us do, so I’m far from unique in this regard.

And yet, as someone who loves pie and loves to bake – I bake cookies with my son, birthday cakes, and I’m not troubled by bread (try my Christmas stollen if you’re in the neighbourhood!) – I rarely bake pie. I’m reluctant.

I’m reluctant because pastry is hard, and good pastry is harder than that. So, on the rare occasions I bake pie, I go with store-bought crusts which I take as a mark of profound personal shame, or I use the recipe for a crustless pie that my son loves.

But recently, I decided that this simply couldn’t be allowed to stand any longer. I need to get better at baking pie.

And the way to do that? Is to do it.

I Believe I Can Pie

Welcome to I Believe I Can Pie, wherein I’ll document the process of trying to get better at pie. I hope to bake and blog about one pie a week; we’ll see if that plan survives contact with the rest of my life (update: it already hasn’t), but an aspirational goal is certainly a place to start.

Pie #1: Apple

Why not? It’s a great fall pie, and a comparatively uncomplicated classic is a good way for me to gauge my grasp of the fundamentals (spoiler warning: my grasp of the fundamentals is not great).

Works Cited

I have a lot of cookbooks dealing with pie, in whole or in part, for someone who until now has been too scared to make it.

The cookbooks I consulted for my first pie were Ken Haedrich’s delightful and massive 2004 all-dessert-pie cookbook, simply entitled PIE. My friend Rachel Hartman describes it as her PIEble, and I feel much the same way.


Basically a perfect book!


I used PIE as my source for a recipe for pastry, specifically Mr. Haedrich’s Basic Shortening Pie Pastry, from page 30.

For the filling, I drew upon element of a number of his apple pie recipes (since there’s no “basic” apple pie recipe in the Haedrich book) as well as some online sources, and one of my other favourite books for pie, Edna Staebler’s classic 1968 Canadian cookbook of Mennonite country cooking, the delightfully-titled Food That Really Schmecks. 

Because this isn’t intended to be a recipe blog – the recipes aren’t my inventions! At all! – I’m going to mostly discuss process and let you look up the recipes on your own, if you want.

Making the Pastry

Things went wrong almost immediately.


I look so organized, don’t I? Ha ha ha sob.

There’s a certain point in baking or cooking anything complex where I become convinced that I’ve caused an irretrievable disaster and get very angry at myself and my surroundings for it. Friends used to say that my cooking show should be called ‘The Angry Gourmet’.

Pie #1 was no exception.

Mixing the dry ingredients was no problem, and I knew enough to make sure that the shortening and the water were both cold but my attempts to blend the shortening into the flour, etc. with a fork, or with knives, or with that pasty-making tined thing that looks like a gladiator’s knuckle-duster, just didn’t seem to work. After a while, I gave up and started just using my fingers. And yes, that worked, for blending, but… I’ve never quite understood what pastry at that stage of blending is supposed to look like. Like meal? Like little pebbles? Okay, but what kind of meal? How little? Besides, most of my flour still just looked like flour to me at that point. I added some butter, thinking perhaps all-shortening just wasn’t cutting it (I only just got the pun there as I typed it, sorry) and that… helped a little? But not much.

Then I started adding the water, and found that the amount per the recipe didn’t seem to be enough. It wasn’t sticking together. I added more water, and that stuck together, probably too much, and the recipes all say “add water, but not too much” but mine was the pastry was sticky and tacky to the touch, which I’m pretty sure it isn’t supposed to be.

That’s when my Special Friend arrived back from some errands to find me cursing a blue streak at two balls of pastry dough.

But I was too far in to abort the mission – I didn’t want to start making that damn pastry again – so I stuck it out. I floured our countertop, put the two balls of dough on them, flattened each one – taking the opportunity to let the flour on the counter get all over both discs, to fight the stickiness. Then I wrapped them in plastic wrap and threw them in the fridge, glad to be on to the next phase.

I let the disks chill in the refrigerator for over an hour, taking the larger one (for the bottom of the pastry) out to soften and warm up just a bit while I was in the process of…

Making the Filling

I said I wouldn’t get into recipes, but I will mention what I did here, because I kind of improvised the filling based on a few different recipes, including some I reviewed online and one from Food That Really Schmecks.

I peeled, cored and sliced (fairly small) about seven cups of apples, which looked like (and was) about the correct amount. To that, I added two thirds of a cup of white sugar, three tablespoons of flour (to thicken), half a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a quarter teaspoon of nutmeg. I mixed it up by hand and let it do its thing while I got to…

Rolling out the Pastry

Given that the pastry wasn’t being terribly cooperative when it went into the fridge, I was worried when I put it on a floured surface to roll it out.

And… I didn’t need to? Things went well! The crust rolled out easily, without sticking, and without breaking much. I got the bottom crust into the pan without incident.

I added the filling and dotted it with butter, per almost every recipe for apple pie I’ve seen. Then I pressed the crust down with a fork along the edge, flattening it and giving it a decorative touch. Then I remembered that you’re supposed to do that after you put the top crust on, to seal it, and I swore some more. Then I took the pastry for the top crust out of the fridge, rolled it out, put it on the pie, and did the fork thing again.


See the fork marks around the edge? LOL.

I trimmed a bit more excess pastry from around the edge, poked a few holes in the top to serve as vents, and it was ready to go into the oven.

Like its creator, kind of a mess but not unlovable.


… proceeded smoothly. I knew to watch for the edges browning faster than the rest of the pie. I tried to use aluminum foil to cover the rim, but found it to be an imperfect solution; it slipped and fell easily and I managed to poke a hole in the top crust trying to get it back into place. I found myself wishing for the more solid “pie shields” that I’ve read about in some books and blogs. I managed to stop the edges from burning, but they were pretty over-baked and dryer than the rest of the crust, which is saying something – see below.


I think I can fairly summarize my first apple pie in years as a solid “Not terrible!”


Behold my pie! Flawed and funny looking – but not terrible!

My Special Friend described it as “A perfectly acceptable dessert for a Tuesday,” and, “Like a clean, safe but threadbare hotel in a small Ontario city.”

I suppose I should be more concrete? Well, on the subject of concrete, the pastry showed definite room for improvement. It was tough yet also brittle, breaking and crumbling easily without being easy to chew. It also had a noticeable taste of flour. I think I may have used a bit less shortening than I should have and then added too much water trying to make the pastry hold together. Next time I’ll try a mix of butter and shortening for more flavour and try to use less water.

I’m also aware that there’s a risk in making pastry of “overworking” it, and it’s possible that’s what happened here?

The apple filling in the other hand, was quite good although a bit understated. Baked very well, with just about exactly the right amount of sugar. The flavour was pleasant but mild. I could have used more cinnamon than I did and perhaps, as my Special Friend suggested, some allspice as well as the nutmeg.

My Next Pie

My Special Friend suggested pecan, which had the disadvantage of being something I’ve never made in my life, but also the advantages of being one of my favourites and being single-crust, which I thought might be more manageable.

Since my baking got ahead of my blogging pretty much from jump, I’m actually five pies in and I have some catching up to do – so Pie #2, which ended up not being pecan, exactly – is long eaten and was not quite as manageable as I hoped. But that’s a story for the next installment!

Coming up next on the blog: Possibly a more general update since I haven’t blogged anything in eleven months and now I show up nattering about pie. Or maybe just more nattering about pie!


Guiding Words for 2019: The Year of Getting It Done

And I’m back. Happy New Year! I hope you’re well.

I have a tendency, I’ve noticed, to blog more heavily in the first half of a year or so, taper off in the third quarter, and go virtually silent in the three, busy, chaotic final months before the year ends.

This year, the busy was even busier and the chaos more chaotic than usual. That was a heck of a send-off to 2018 that the universe gave me. And I mean, it was certainly memorable and dramatic, but I think I’d like to settle down into a new groove.

A lot happened; a lot changed. Much of it was good, but much of it also isn’t stuff I want to get into publicly. Just… a lot happened; a lot changed.

And now, the year has changed too, and we’re all of us on to 2019.

Long-time readers, or newer readers masochistic enough to read the archives, know that I’ve made a New Year’s practice over the past several years of picking a word, or a few words, or a short phrase, to serve as my compass for the year to come.

For 2018, I chose, “Action now!”

2017‘s word was “Courage.”

For 2016, I chose three words, “Health. Happiness. Organized.”

My focus for 2015 was, “Organized.”

Sometimes the process for choosing my guiding words is a little more formal and planned; other times, it’s more intuitive. This year was very much the latter. My sense of what my focus for 2019 should be really emerged naturally from 2018, and what I accomplished and didn’t accomplish over the year.

I’m proud of what I achieved in 2018. It was, as I said, a year of change. Some of those changes I knew were coming and would need to be managed. Others were surprises.

And of course, these processes don’t neatly coincide with the calendar. Some changes are still unfolding. And there are more changes coming — just the ones I know about are going to make for a busy year, let alone all the new surprises that the year brings.

And my concern is that it will be too easy for me to get bogged down. New adventures are great, and I’m looking forward to them, but there’s always going to be so much to do. I look back on all of 2018’s dangling threads, and when I imagine all the new tasks that will hit my desk, both literally and metaphorically… well, I worry. I worry about getting scared, and getting stuck, and losing momentum, because it’s so easy for me to lose momentum and there’s so much I want to, need to, do this year.

So, to help me recognize that propensity in myself, to help me keep getting things done in 2019, I have my guiding star for the year — one idea, expressed two different ways.

One way of expressing it is, “Move forward!”

Progress doesn’t need to be in big, dramatic leaps to be real — it’s right up there in the subtitle of the blog, for the Unicorn’s sake! Onward, maintain momentum, just keep swimming. An increment of something is better than nothing.

Move forward.

An even more blunt way of expressing it, so much more blunt that I originally thought twice of including it in this post before I decided to just move forward, is, “Get unfucked! Get unstuck!”

This is the year that I want to clear away some of those dangling threads — especially since there will always be new ones. It’s time to finish what I started, fix what I broke, do what I need to do. Finish my novel, finish learning to drive, work towards taking my wonderful, thriving, always-growing relationship with my Special Friend a step or two towards our future.

By making progress. Through steady movement. I’m going to move forward. I’m going to get unfucked, and get unstuck.

My words for the year, will, I hope, help me to stay on course when my path gets thorny.

My journey continues. One step at a time. Thank you for being here with me.

Happy New Year. There’s lots to do. Let’s go.

Coming up next on the blog: I move forward by taking a look back at last year’s reading!


Breaking In: Interview with S. L. Saboviec

Welcome to the latest installment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.

Today I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to interview a writer whose many accomplishments and responsibilities make me feel just a bit guilty about ever claiming that I don’t have the time to write – author Samantha Saboviec.

As she notes on her website, Samantha, who publishes as S. L. Saboviec, grew up in a small town in Iowa but became an expat for her Canadian husband, whom she met in the Massive Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game Star Wars: Galaxies. She has three daughters, including twin toddlers. She’s a member of the Codex Writers’ Group and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and is a slush reader for Flash Fiction Online. She’s also currently undergoing treatment for metastatic breast cancer, a process which she discusses frankly and thoughtfully on her blog and on Twitter.

She impresses the heck out of me.

She is perhaps best-known for her Fallen Redemption series of novels. The third and most recent is the companion novel The Impending Possession of Scarlet Wakebridge-Rosé.

Scarlet Wakebridge-Rosé, busy executive and less-than-stellar mother and wife, has a problem that only an exorcist can solve. Except she’s not precisely a devout Catholic parishioner any longer, and to gain assistance from the Church means telling a whopping lie of omission.

Fortunately, she discovers Father Angelo Ambrosio, whose commitment to helping the afflicted means he’s willing to overlook the things Scarlet prefers to keep hidden. Unfortunately, his sordid past keeps him under a microscope with the bishop, who’s not so liberal in his views.

But the demon harassing Scarlet is relentless. It makes its motives clear: in a previous life, she struck a bargain, promising it her body on her fiftieth birthday. Now, she and Angelo must unravel the mystery surrounding her forgotten past in order to stop the possession by next week or risk losing her to the depths of Hell forever.

This stand-alone novel set in the Fallen Redemption universe extends the series to modern day. Enter a world where humans reincarnate, demons interfere in daily life, and the currents of fate carry us all to our destinies.

The series is self-published; see her website for links to find and buy the books via your preferred online vendor.

This is another Breaking In post focusing on a fellow contributor to Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One). So, yep, as I’ve noted, some degree of bias here.


The Impending Possession of Scarlet Wakebridge-Rosé, by Samantha Saboviec, writing as S. L. Saboviec


[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Samantha! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?

[SLS] Did that happen already? Ha! I’d say a few months ago, I had a moment of feeling like I’d graduated to a new level (whatever that might be) when I realized I had six stories published or pending. It’s an arbitrary number, for sure, but it’s more than a couple—when I could say perhaps it was a fluke I got published. 

SL Saboviec - Head Shot

Author Samantha Saboviec. Also, Author S. L. Saboviec!

What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?

My plan was to write my first novel, find an agent, find a major publisher, and become a New York Times Bestselling author. You know, the Hollywood novelist trope. As anyone who’s been around the writing community for five minutes knows, that’s not how it works.

After querying my first novel unsuccessfully, I spent a lot of time soul-searching. I decided I liked the idea of self-publishing and went about teaching myself. I spent way more time (and money!) on writing craft, learning to critique, and edits than I did on marketing. After publishing the three novels I have out and realizing that “if you build it, they will come” is not a viable marketing strategy, I started educating myself on the business side of self-publishing.

Prior to getting pregnant with the twins and getting my cancer diagnosis when they were five months old, I had a tidy plan for how the rest of my writing career would go. I was in several self-publishing writing communities, I’d read all the books by all the big name SPers, and I was working on my next trilogy. I was going to publish them rapid-fire this past January while working on the next set. Boom! I’d be a serious author!

So that takes us to October 27, 2017, the day of my diagnosis. The story there is so dramatic you might think I’m making it up: I had had a biopsy of the “jaw anomaly” a few days before. I was working on edits to one of the books when the phone rang. My oral surgeon’s office. “Can you come in today?” asked the receptionist. “No, not next week. Today.”

That’s when I knew. I couldn’t fathom what. But I knew it was bad. I didn’t write or edit another word for months after that.

I kept up submitting finished short stories even while in chemotherapy, but I’m still struggling to write. Chemo is brutal. It sapped all my physical energy, let alone all my creative energy.

However, my goals and approach haven’t changed. They’ve just been unexpectedly delayed for a bit of time. What’s a year in the span of the universe, though? People will still be reading books when I’m ready.

And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?

Well, besides not getting cancer—

*Everyone laughs awkwardly*

—I would wait to self-publish my first novel until the entire trilogy was finished. That’s what I’m doing with this next trilogy. (As a side note, it’s actually steamy SF romance, so I’m writing it under a different pen name: Ariel Jade. Marketing!) I should have spent time on learning the industry. I did know that at the time I published Guarding Angel. I just decided I should go ahead anyway. I wanted my book out in the world. And that’s okay. (I did hope something would happen without marketing, but I knew it wasn’t likely.)

If I could wave a magic wand, I’d want to change the reality of traditional publishing to the fantasy that I had when I knew nothing about it. You know—easy, quick, lucrative. But since the publishing industry seems to be in something of a crisis, I’m happy to be self-publishing. I’m not opposed to traditional publishing, but I like moving forward. There is way too much “hurry up and wait” in trad.

Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?

I thought I’d be prouder to be where I am, but I think everyone suffers from Imposter Syndrome. Lately I’ve been working on the more spiritual side of life, and this is one area I’ve specifically been trying to improve. Feeling grateful for what I have and feeling proud of my accomplishments. That’s something everyone can do no matter where they are in their career. Look how far you’ve come, and congratulate yourself for the work you’ve done so far.


What are you working on now?

Part of my struggle to get writing again is knowing where to put my energy. I have developmental edits to apply to the last book in the Fallen Redemption universe; I need to work on those three SF romance books; too many anthology calls are tempting me; I’m long overdue for posting an update to my cancer-journey blog; a friend and I are brainstorming ideas for a collaborative project; and a fantasy short story inspired by my cancer is burning in my soul.

I think the cancer story is going to win out because I feel like I need to say something about everything I’ve been through. I’m working on it, but it’s at a snail’s pace. I’ve never struggled like this to write before, but I’ve also, well, never been this sick before.

Yeah, that spiritual stuff I mentioned? I’m in a huge battle with letting go of my perfectionist ways right now.

How can people keep up with you online?

You can subscribe to my newsletter at http://www.saboviec.com/newsletter/ and get a free short story in the universe my novels are written! I’ve gone quiet for a while, but three months out from chemo, I’m gaining strength. Hopefully before the end of the year, I’ll be back on the writing saddle regularly.

Thank you to Samantha for the interview! I’m grateful to her for sharing the more personal elements of her story — sharing that sort of thing, openly and directly, is one of the things that I’m working on.

As a reminder, you can read her story ‘Pirates Don’t Make Amends’ in Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One), which is available now as an ebook from Amazon. Print copies will be available shortly, and you can be sure that I’ll be open and direct about sharing that news.

Coming up next on the blog: This is the final Tesseracts-focused Breaking In interview, so I’m not sure! After my hiatus, I find that I’m really enjoying blogging more regularly again, although I’m not sure I can keep it up at this pace without interviewees doing most of the actual writing! Nevertheless, stay tuned!

Breaking In: Interview with James Bambury

Welcome to the latest installment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.

Today I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to interview a fellow writer of both prose science fiction and webcomics, author James Bambury.

On his Twitter bio, James succinctly describes himself as “Writer. Teacher. Other.” His blog adds that his stories have been featured at Daily Science Fiction, AE Science Fiction Review, Ray Gun Revival, and in a number of other publications and anthologies. He’s also the creator of the webcomic SpaceBox. He writes and teaches in Brampton, Ontario.

Tad Bardeaux is lost somewhere in space.

Luckily, his escape pod is equipped with near-perpetual life support, although that doesn’t necessarily compensate for the lack of engines or propulsion. Then there’s the minor design flaw that caused the hull to permanently fuse upon its launch–it can withstand all kinds of space perils at the small cost of sealing passengers inside.

Trapped inside the escape pod, Bardeaux finds himself travelling through vast stretches of space and time–while looking for a way out of a box that is definitely not bigger on the inside.

SpaceBox is updated sporadically. 

It is made using Inkscape for the illustrations and layout. 

The Crimefighter BB font is used courtesy of Blambot‘s continuing support of indie comics.

It is written and illustrated by James.

This is one of my Breaking In posts focusing on a fellow contributor to the forthcoming anthology Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One). So, Sinister Plan disclosed!

SpaceBox page 1

Page 1 of SpaceBox, written and drawn by James Bambury


[SGM] Welcome to the blog, James! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?

[JB] Thank you for having me! Now, have I broken in as a writer? While it’s easily argued I haven’t, I’d like to think that any moment I’ve had where my work has been read and understood is one in which I feel like I’ve broken in and the rest of the time I’m on the outside of things. The only thing that matters in writing is being read, it is how solipsism is transformed into communication. At the risk of understating the sense of affirmation that comes with selling stories, it was the first batch of rejection letters that made me feel like a participant in writing. I wrote down words, someone else bothered to read them (or at least start reading them,) and some kind of communication took place.

J Bambury - Headshot (1)

Author James Bambury

What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?

Dealing with rejection can be frustrating, but in hindsight I think many editors were saving me from myself. Just being persistent and patient to until there’s a match with a story and a market was the key. Also, accepting that what I may be writing and exploring is just different from what particular markets are looking for has been a lesson that’s taken me a long time to learn, but trying to extract ego and confidence from the process of writing for different markets has been difficult.

Now, specifically relating to the Tesseracts anthologies, I will confess to a bit of gamesmanship with my submissions. I’ve never edited an anthology, so this next bit is some guesswork on my part, but I see putting a story collection together as something similar to designing a house where the rooms are the different stories. The stories need to be connected to one another and complement a reader’s “walk” through the house but need to be distinct from one another. No collection needs to be made up of a dozen nearly-identical stories just as no one wants to have a house that’s comprised of a dozen kitchens. With that in mind,  I tried to think ahead to what sorts of submissions would be the major stories addressing the theme, the kitchens and living rooms of these anthologies if you will, then I tried to think about a spare-attic-bedroom type story that would complement the collection. To put it more simply: When an editor is calling for submissions on a particular theme, there’s likely a few really obvious types of stories that fit the bill, unless you have the best version of a particular trope or theme, it can be to your advantage to stray a little bit and find your own niche. When it comes to the theme of optimism in “Nevertheless,” my story is hardly a summative take on the theme, and not the kind of work you’d want to build an anthology around, but it does reflect a particular strain of optimism that should round out the collection nicely.


And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?

I wouldn’t bother with any rewrite requests. There’s a few times that opportunity was extended to me and while I am confident the editors meant well, they seemed to have something more specific in mind when asking for revisions and I think we were all a little let down by the process.

Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?

I continue to work in obscurity and that’s okay.

What are you working on now?

There’s a lot more I’d like to add to the webcomic, SpaceBox, that I’ve been working on. The story is just kind of a yarn that keeps going on. I’ve got an ending that I’m working towards for that series, but it’s going to take a while to get there. I’d like to try out some other forms for storytelling, like games and other interactive works. I am always on the lookout for interesting calls for submission.

How can people keep up with you online?

I tweet sporadically at @JamesBambury and the webcomic continues (also sporadically) at www.spaceboxcomic.com.

Thank you to James for the interview! I too continue to work in obscurity — and that’s okay.

However, if you so choose, you can do your part to make both of us just a bit less obscure, because the ebook of Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One) is available now for purchase from Amazon!

Coming up next on the blog: My final Tesseracts-focused Breaking In interview, with author S. L. Saboviec.

Breaking In: Interview with Ursula Pflug

Welcome to the latest installment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.

Today I’m delighted to have the chance to interview an award-winning writer of speculative fiction, as well as an acclaimed playwright, editor, teacher, and journalist – author Ursula Pflug.

As she notes on her website, born in Tunis to German parents in 1958, Ursula Pflug grew up in Toronto. She attended the University of Toronto and The Ontario College of Art and Design. In workshop settings she studied playwriting with Judith Thompson and speculative fiction with Judith Merril. She has travelled in Canada, the US, North Africa, Europe, Jamaica, Japan, and Mexico. She has lived in New York City and in Hawai’i. Formerly a graphic designer, she focused on her writing after relocating to rural Peterborough County with her family in 1987 and currently lives in the village of Norwood with her partner, the multi-media artist Doug Back.

She’s had over ninety pieces of short fiction, three novels, two novellas and two collections of her short stories published, is the co-editor of two anthologies, and I’m pretty sure I’m missing at least a few credits there, too.

Her story ‘A Room of His Own’ will appear in Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One).

So, yes, my now-standard disclaimer applies: This is one of my Breaking In posts focusing on a fellow contributor to Nevertheless.



[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Ursula! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?

[UP] I had a regular column about art in Toronto’s NOW Magazine  in 1981-2.  People I ran into on the street suddenly treated me like a professional—I’d been working as a graphic artist. I was still in my early twenties so it was a huge deal.

What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?

Persistence is the best strategy. People quit because they’re discouraged. My short story Python took seven years and sixteen submissions before it was published. It went on to win Rose Secrest’s annual award and was reprinted in prestigious US and UK venues including Jeff VanderMeer’s Album Zutique anthology and Lightspeed magazine. You also have to have a disciplined work schedule; that’s crucial. My artist mother had very good work habits. Working long hours every day seemed like the thing to do because I’d grown up with it.

And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?

I worked on my own a lot. Most of my peers when I was young were visual and new media artists and musicians. I only knew one other hard working short fiction writer when I began to publish in anthologies and magazines. I also didn’t go to workshops at the start—that came a bit later—there weren’t really any, or if there were, I didn’t learn of them. This was pre-internet. Now I see emerging writers of any age receiving huge amounts of support in their critique groups and their short story workshops—some of which I teach. On the other hand, authors have told me of really bad advice they’ve received in their writers’ groups. Even pros can give you terrible advice if they don’t ‘get’ you—advice that if followed can cost years. Discernment is really important when it comes to sifting through everything people tell you. How does one acquire it? And the advantage of working alone is that you get to  explore without someone looking over your shoulder—even an insightful, well-meaning person can be a distraction when you’re just learning how to swim—to use an image from my story.

Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?

When I was young I had the idea I could make a good living, but that was the folly of youth. Jan Thornhill, one of my best friends, supports herself and her husband as  a best-selling children’s science author, but she’s the only person I’m close to who is living the fantasy of success so many aspiring writers subscribe to. Only a handful of Canadian authors pull it off. I try not to be curmudgeonly because to earn even part of one’s living from writing and writing related activities is a blessing, but writing and publishing in Canada are still hierarchical. I read widely including for national juried contests, and I see what’s out there. A major house doesn’t guarantee better books, but it can mean better sales. My books have received great reviews internationally and been endorsed by incredible authors, but they’ve been released by Canadian and British small and medium sized presses. A lot of people only want to read from best seller lists, and they’re selling themselves short. Read small press authors! You’ll be inspired by the diversity. It has been harder to get published if you’re indigenous, a person of colour, LGBTQ. We’re starting to see greater inclusiveness, long overdue. And there’s been an explosion of brilliant indigenous speculative fiction in Canada, much of it published as “mainstream.”

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a portal fantasy that grew out of an unpublished short story titled The Lonely Planet Guide to Other Dimensions. It’s about a hotel on an arid peninsula by the sea. The main characters live in depopulated villages nearby, in  the mysterious city to the north, or on  Earth—in Ontario—and all come to stay at the hotel for different reasons. I’m a pantser so I prefer stories to be emergent—and what I’m noticing  is that Rachel, who visits from Earth via a dimensional portal, has an easier time fitting in than Esme,  who came from the north by bus. I’m not sure why that is but in one way that’s the best place to be—you keep writing to learn about these people’s lives. I’m also working on a memoir about a year I spent as a penniless teen living in backwoods Hawai’i following a shipwreck.

How can people keep up with you online?

My website is Ursulapflug.ca. I’m on twitter, Goodreads and FB under my own name. No tumblr or Instagram. You have to stop somewhere.

Thanks very much to Ursula for the interview! And man, “…a year I spent as a penniless teen living in backwoods Hawai’i following a shipwreck.” How much do I want to read that memoir?!

I also look forward to reading Ursula’s story in Nevertheless”\ (Tesseracts Twenty-One)

Which is no longer merely available for pre-order. It’s available now as an ebook from Amazon.

Coming up next on the blog: Nevertheless contributor James Bambury shares his experiences Breaking In!

Breaking In: Interview with Michael Reid

Welcome to the latest instalment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.

Today I’m very happy to have the opportunity to interview someone I want to call a triple threat, except that everything on his CV is awesome and beneficial – astronomer, educator, and author Michael Reid.

As he notes on his website, Michael write science fiction and fantasy in various permutations, with stories published in a number of prestigious venues. He attended the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop in 2015. He’s also an Associate Professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, and serves as Coordinator of Public Outreach and Education for the University’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics.

His short story ‘The Rosedale House’ will appear in the forthcoming anthology Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One), and, yes, that means he’s a fellow contributor, which warrants my usual disclaimer.


[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Michael! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?

[MR] Thanks for having me!

I think the obvious choice for a new writer’s breakthrough moment is that first acceptance letter from an editor. For me, though, I feel it came earlier: it was my acceptance letter to the Clarion workshop. That was the first positive response I’d ever gotten to my writing from someone who had no reason to be nice to me. I had sent my work out to some magazines before that and received only rejections. Getting into Clarion was the time I felt like maybe people might someday want to read what I was writing.

What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?

I wrote seriously for a solid decade as a purely solitary activity. Sometimes I would show snippets to my husband and one trusted friend, but I didn’t send my stories out to editors. I tried joining a few in-person writers’ groups but they were always full. In 2012, I was one of the inaugural members of a new group. We met for three years. The group gave me valuable feedback and helped me grow as a writer. I started to get comfortable having strangers read my work. But, while my craft was developing, I felt totally ignorant of the publishing industry and was really craving the mentorship of a published writer. I was also in my late thirties and was starting to feel like I had floundered for way too long. So I applied to Clarion. That was one of the best decisions of my life. In the summer of 2015, I took six weeks leave from work, left my poor husband and dog behind, and headed to San Diego.

Clarion was amazing. It’s something I would recommend to almost anyone who wants to write speculative fiction. It’s life-changing. You get paired with seven professional writers and seventeen classmates for six weeks. They lock you in a dormitory to write and critique until your brain melts. I still remember landing at the airport in San Diego and meeting Jess Barber and adrienne maree brown in the arrivals area. They are both awe-inspiringly impressive people, crackling with energy and intelligence and creativity. One of Jess’ stories had already been selected by Gardner Dozois for the Year’s Best anthology and adrienne had just co-edited Octavia’s Brood, an anthology of work inspired by Octavia Butler. And these were my classmates. You can’t imagine how excited I was.

Clarion gave me a huge boost. It taught me about craft and markets. It gave me a lot of confidence. It made me seventeen friends most of whom I still chat with every single day about some aspect of my writing. It wasn’t too long after finishing Clarion that I started getting published.

And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?

I wish I’d shared my work with others much earlier. Like a lot of unpublished authors, I sat on my stories for too long, hoping that somehow, if I wrote enough of them, I would pass some critical threshold and publishing magic would happen. If I could do it over again, I would have sent my work out for critiques years earlier.

There’s a tool I’d like to recommend: critters.org. It’s an online critique service–you critique other peoples’ stories to earn credits that you can redeem for critiques of your own work. I used it for a while and found it really helpful. Seeing how strangers react to your work can be very valuable. With Critters, you usually get a decent number of critiques, so you get a fairly balanced view of the responses your work is eliciting. It’s great for shy people, or those who don’t have access to an in-person writing group. You can work at your own pace. It’s also really helpful because it makes you think carefully about other peoples’ stories, which teaches you lessons about craft that you can apply in your own writing. I wish I’d started using it much sooner.

Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?

When I was a teenager, I thought I would be churning out a novel a year by the time I was in my late twenties. That didn’t happen. But even as I started publishing in my late thirties, I expected there would be this exponential takeoff in my literary output. That also hasn’t happened. It turns out that maintaining a demanding day job and a writing practice is just hard. I also thought that once I started getting published in professional markets (by the SFWA definition of “professional”) that I would probably have an easier time continuing to get published in those markets. That also hasn’t turned out to be true. So I’ve had to change the way I think about my goals. Rather than expecting any particular outcome, I focus on steady application of effort. I get up very early every morning and write before work. That’s how I measure my success: did I put in the effort and did I generate something satisfying? That’s all I can really control, so I try not to worry too much about the rest.

What are you working on now?

I’m on the third draft of a slipstream novel. You could call it a ‘queer cosmological fantasy’. My friend Vanessa Len, who is a savant when it comes to both craft and self-motivation, always encourages me to write the stories I want to read, so that’s what I’m doing. I’m not sure anyone will publish it, but here’s hoping.

Between revisions of the novel, while I’m letting it ‘rest’, I work on short stories, and on keeping all the completed ones out in front of slush readers and editors.

How can people keep up with you online?

My website is michaelareid.com and I’m @writereid on Twitter.

Thanks so much to Michael for the interview. Ironically, despite both being science fiction writers who work at the same university and are being published in the same anthology, we have yet to meet in person. We should change that, sometime soon.

On the subject of that anthology, can you all stand another reminder that Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One) is available for pre-order?

Breaking In: Interview with Dorianne Emmerton

Welcome to the latest instalment of Breaking In, where I interview authors about their experiences breaking in as writers — how they did it, what it felt like to get there, and how it differed from what they were expecting.

Today I’m very happy to have the opportunity to interview an author, playwright and reviewer whose interests, output and prodigious talent spans a tremendous range of genres and forms, Dorianne Emmerton.

As she notes on her website, Dorianne writes literary short stories, plays, screenplays, erotic short fiction, and sometimes non-fiction too. She grew up in small town northern Ontario and via a number of baby steps she managed to fulfill her goal of living in Toronto in an apartment with a deck and a cat. One of those baby steps was a degree in Theatre and Drama Studies/Diploma in Acting from University of Toronto Erindale Campus/Sheridan College, which is to say she spent some time living in Mississauga. The suburbs do not suit her. However this background also speaks to her love of theatre and she manages her current habit by reviewing for Mooney On Theatre.

Most recently, her short story ‘Mating Habits of the Late-Adopting Smoker’ appeared in Ink Stains Volume 7: Decay.

Decay. The word inspires images of mold-encrusted carpets in abandoned hotels, forgotten toys in the rain, and rusting roller coasters. Those who call themselves urban explorers are obsessed with it, perhaps because of its profound sense of sadness. If we are still and listen, we can hear the whispers of a brighter past. This pervasive ghost doesn’t only haunt the physical world; it invades our bodies, minds, relationships, and societies. It is inevitable; we are helpless to stop it.

 In these stories, one man is suddenly stalked by the same hooded figure that pursued his terminally ill father, while another stalks the world’s evil at great cost to himself. A woman who has recently picked up smoking undergoes a monstrous transformation, another reels when she sees her boyfriend for what he truly is, and North Pole elves experience heartbreak for the first time. There are more: fifteen tales in all by authors Elizabeth Allen, Kaitlyn Downing, Dorianne Emmerton, Bri Faythe, Jackie Logsted, Robert Mayette, Megan Neumann, Pablo Patiño, Daniel Pearlman, Christopher Petersen, Travis D. Roberson, Heather Sullivan, Page Sonnet Sullivan, Mary Thorson, Taro Turner, and Rhonda Zimlich.

 These are the things we lose; we die a little each day.

 Some of us just more quickly than others.

This is one of my Breaking In posts focusing on a fellow contributor to the forthcoming anthology Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One). Dorianne and I have also known one another for several years, have a bunch of mutuals, hang out on occasion (though not often enough), and I consider her a friend. So, you know: Biased.


Inkstains Volume 7: Decay


[SGM] Welcome to the blog, Dorianne! To begin, when did you feel like you’d broken in as a writer?

[DE] At some future point when I have a published novel. I know you asked the question in the past tense, but we’re SF writers, we have flexibility with time, right?

Otherwise, this year has been pretty good: two different short story publications, after a long time of none. My novel, and a novella before that, sucked up all of my writing time and I neglected short story submissions. (And by “neglected” I don’t mean I didn’t do them, I just didn’t do them in the massive quantity as previously.)

WAITAMINUTE. In 2015 I did nineteen submissions and in 2016 I did eighteen, with no acceptances in those years. In 2017 I only did eleven, but three were accepted! (Two short story publications and a short play production.)

WAITAMINUTE LONGER, both my short stories published in 2018 were submitted on the same day in 2017! I’m not sure what to do with this information, since I’m not superstitious, but maybe I’ll run some fancier analyses with my submission spreadsheet. I do love a good pivot table.


Author Dorianne Emmerton, photo by Zoë Gemelli

What was your path to breaking in? Did you have a strategy? Did it work, or did you end up getting there another way?

My strategy was

  • Spend many years trying to write serious CanLit type stories, publish very few, and keep finding myself sliding into weirdness of some sort;
  • Consider writing SF but erring on the side of “I’m not imaginative enough to create whole new realities”;
  • Get propositioned by friends to write a cyborg story, love doing it, never sell it, but decide I can write SF after all;
  • Discover that my novel’s rough first draft benefits from the sparks of weirdness developing into speculative horror;
  • Sell a couple of SF stories, including to Tesseracts Twenty-One: Nevertheless;
  • Sell all my remaining stories, including the far future, genderqueering, polyamorous space opera cyborg novella;
  • Sell my novel for enough money that I can afford to take a year off just to write;
  • Win many awards and top the best seller lists;
  • Write more things.

The last four are currently aspirational but as I said at the start, I’m happy to write about the future in other tenses.

(I think I’m supposed to get an agent in there somewhere, but I’m not sure where it fits and also it’s pretty intimidating.


And following up on that, knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?

Screw writing stuff that doesn’t have ghosts, or aliens, or monsters, or magic, or sentient malevolent trees. What good has reality ever done anyone anyway?

Now that you’ve broken in, is it like or unlike what you expected? How?

You’re interviewing me – that’s unexpected. I now feel like I’m good enough to target markets that pay SFWA rates, and I’ve stopped submitting to places that pay in “exposure”, but I expected, or at least hoped, for that. Otherwise, I still just try to write twice a week and not be a terrible parent/office worker/person.

What are you working on now?

My novel. That’s the sentient malevolent trees thing. I also wrote a YA portal fantasy short story that I’m shopping around. Still trying to get someone to like my cyborgs.

How can people keep up with you online?

@headonist on twitter, but you’re just as likely to find political outrage as writerly stuff on there.

https://dorianneemmerton.wordpress.com, which I occasionally remember to update.

Thank you to Dorianne for the interview! I’m very much looking forward to reading her story in Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One).

Yes, even though we know each other in Real Life, I haven’t read her story yet! I only know that she refers to ‘Inside the Spiral’, as a genderqueering, sex magickal romp, which for the record, sounds like the sort of story I strongly approve of.

Oh. Yeah. Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One). Wasn’t it available for pre-order, or something?

Coming up next on the blog: Nevertheless contributor Michael Reid shares his experiences Breaking In.