Breaking In: Interview with Melanie Fishbane

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 opportunity to interview historical YA author Melanie Fishbane.

As she notes on her website, Melanie holds an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an M.A. in History from Concordia University.

With over seventeen years’ experience in children’s publishing, she lectures internationally on children’s literature and L.M. Montgomery, who she has been obsessed with since she first read Anne of Green Gables in Grade Six.

A freelance writer and social media consultant, Melanie teaches English at Humber College. Melanie also loves writing essays and her first one, “My Pen Shall Heal, Not Hurt”: Writing as Therapy in L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside and The Blythes Are Quoted,” is included in L.M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valleys: The Ontario Years 1911-1942. Melanie lives in Toronto with her partner and their very entertaining cat, Merlin. MAUD is her first novel. You can follow Melanie on Twitter @MelanieFishbane and like her on Facebook.

MAUD (Penguin Teen) is available now from your preferred online or bricks-and-mortar retailer.

For the first time ever, a young novel about the teen years of L.M. Montgomery, the author who brought us ANNE OF GREEN GABLES.

Fourteen-year-old Lucy Maud Montgomery — Maud to her friends — has a dream: to go to college and become a writer, just like her idol, Louisa May Alcott. But living with her grandparents on Prince Edward Island, she worries that this dream will never come true. Her grandfather has strong opinions about a woman’s place in the world, and they do not include spending good money on college. Luckily, she has a teacher to believe in her, and good friends to support her, including Nate, the Baptist minister’s stepson and the smartest boy in the class. If only he weren’t a Baptist; her Presbyterian grandparents would never approve. Then again, Maud isn’t sure she wants to settle down with a boy — her dreams of being a writer are much more important.

 But life changes for Maud when she goes out West to live with her father and his new wife and daughter. Her new home offers her another chance at love, as well as attending school, but tensions increase as Maud discovers her stepmother’s plans for her, which threaten Maud’s future — and her happiness forever.

Full disclosure: Mel and I are in the same writer’s group. So yeah, I’m not super objective about her work, which I recommend unreservedly – although MAUD itself was already in edits with the publisher by the time we met, and I haven’t read it yet. Sorry, Mel. It’s at the top of my TBR pile, I promise!

MAUD cover

MAUD, by Melanie J. Fishbane

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

[MF] Thanks for having me, Stephen! I suppose that I felt like something extraordinary was happening when I signed the contract to write MAUD.

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 initial strategy was to complete my MFA at VCFA (Vermont College of Fine Arts), finish the novel I was working on, find an agent, and what comes after that, but the universe had other plans and, instead, I received an opportunity from Penguin Canada (now Penguin Random House of Canada) to write a YA novel about my favourite author, L.M. Montgomery. I still cannot believe it years later. I hadn’t finished my degree, nor an agent, but something in the writing I had been sending to the editor over the years and the fact that I had been lecturing on Montgomery, made her (and the heirs) think that I could do this. To be honest, this was something I had always wanted to do for a number of years. I had done my MA in History, specifically on historical writing for kids and teens at Concordia in Montreal, so this felt like coming home, a convergence of all the things I loved.

I was asked to put a proposal with an outline and a few sample chapters, which I submitted three months later.  After, I was sent feedback and then I worked on those revisions, resubmitted and then waited. Soon after, I was given an offer.

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

I was a bit nervous finding an agent to negotiate the deal because I was worried that the publisher would think badly of me as they came to me. The lawyer I used was great, but it if I had looked for an agent to help negotiate the deal, there might a be a connection to help me sell my next book.

Melanie Fishbane Author Photo Ayelet Tsabari

Melanie Fishbane, Author (photo by Ayelet Tsabari)

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

I’m not sure what I had expected. Having worked on the other side of things for over seventeen years, I was aware of how stores and publishing worked. But, it is different when it is your book, at least it was for me. I told people that I was “cautiously optimistic” about how the book would do, publisher support and the response. My publicist has been working very hard on my behalf, I have done many forms of media, they have showcased the book at conferences and in digital advertisement, and they supported my book launch, even sent me to PEI so I could do something there. I know what resources are available for first time authors, authors in general, so I know how unusual this is and I’m grateful.

Essentially, you must get comfortable with the general feeling of nervous-excitement coupled with anxiety, as well as learn to ‘let go,’ because there is a lot happening behind the scenes that you don’t know about and there must be an element of trust that things will go in your favour. I remain… “cautiously optimistic” and practise gratitude.

What are you working on now?

A few things. I have two essays that are due soon so that is my priority. It is good because I find short projects like these get me back into a rhythm and provide a feeling of accomplishment, particularly because novels can take so long.

I have two novel projects competing for my attention this summer so we’ll see which one wins out. One is a YA historical fiction that focuses on issues of consent and women’s rights and the other is an upper middle grade/YA about a girl who is obsessed with a teen idol for all of the wrong reasons.

How can people keep up with you online?

I’m pretty easy to find. 🙂

There’s my website: http://melaniefishbane.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MelanieJFishbane/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MelanieFishbane

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/melanie_fishbane/

Thanks again to Mel for the interview!

Shameful confession time: I ended up sitting on this post for, like, a month after she sent it to me in a very timely manner. I had a very good June, but it was a lot busier than I expected!

But I think… it worked out really well, in the end? Because now, this post is going up just before Canada Day — the 150th anniversary of Confederation, no less. And there is no more iconically Canadian writer than L. M. Montgomery — and no more iconically Canadian literary character than her creation. Anne Shirley. What better way to celebrate them, and Canada Day, than Melanie’s novel?

Coming up next on the blog: I’m not sure yet. I’m still kind of easing back into the blogging after a lengthy quiescence. But it’s the mid-point of the year, so perhaps a state of the me update would be timely?

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Bolding Going Forward, ‘Cause I Can’t Find Reverse

Well, I missed the window for New Year’s posts, and then some, didn’t I?

There’s been a lot going on, on all sorts of fronts for me. There’s a lot up in the air, and a lot of change coming. This is a scattered sort of update, not a proper year-in-review or year-ahead post, not only because it’s already February, but because I’m in a scattered sort of place right now.

So, Um, Happy New Year?

2016 was rough on a lot of people, not excluding me. That being said, there was also a lot of good for me in the year. There were big ups and big downs. I’m not optimistic that 2017 will be a whole lot better, overall, for the world – but I do think I can make it an even better year for myself, by working to build on the good, by learning from the bad, by trying to improve myself, and moving forward.

What Does Better Even Mean?

It sounds good, to talk about a better year, and about improving myself, but those are twisty, shifty and very subjective words. What do I actually mean?

I said this privately, back around my last birthday in late 2016, and I’ll say it less privately now: I need to be braver. It’s time to stand up, for myself, for the people I’m responsible to, for the kind of world and future I want for everyone.

So, if I were to pick one word to be my guiding star this year? Courage.

It’s not natural for me to be brave. I like to think that I’m not a coward, but even I have to admit that I’m pretty seriously conflict-averse. I question myself a lot, which is a strength when I’m wrong, but potentially problematic when I’m right, or when I let self-doubt keep me from acting in my own defence, or that of the people I love.

That has to stop. I hope that I’ll always be self-analytical, ready to listen, and willing to consider that I might be wrong and admit when I am. But I also need to be ready to stand up for what’s right. It’s time to be ready to do that, and to actually do it. It’s time to be brave.

Okay, But What Are You Actually Going To DO This Year?

Yeah, if courage is the direction I always want to be steering towards, that’s good. But what about the practical stuff? What about actually getting things done?

My New Special Friend pointed me at this response to a post on Reddit. It’s a few years old, now, but ideas like this don’t really have a best-before date. If courage is my guiding star, then this is my battle cry, my daily call to action: No More Zero Days!

nmzd

Image by Reddit User modified_duck, inspired by the comment by ryans01 on the post by maxstolfe

In practice, that means that I work to make every day a non-zero day in some way – keeping in mind that non-zero means going above the baseline, making progress. The fields I’ve identified as being targets for non-zero-ness are:

  • My health (exercising and eating better)
  • Caring for my loved ones, and my home
  • My writing

So far I’m… well, it’s a start? I don’t think I’ve had a three-for-three non-zero day yet, but there have been a lot fewer completely zero days.

While We’re On That Subject, What Did You Actually Do LAST Year?

Ugh, my metrics tracking went absolutely to shit last year. I… submitted some stories? And some of them got closer to a yes than I’ve ever gotten before, even though I still ended up getting a “no”. And I made inching progress on rewriting my second novel. I queried some more agents on the first novel, which was a good thing to do even though they all said “No” too.  And I wrote some blog posts, including some really good interviews with wonderful writers.

But since about September, my productivity on all those fronts has pretty much fallen off a cliff, and I’ve been focused on dealing with other stuff. Dealing with said stuff has been stressful, and I’ve been managing my stress poorly – lots of eating my feelings, regrettably.

It’s a challenge, but I’m trying to do better. No more Zero Days.

What’s Next For The Blog?

I expect posting to continue to be light until the spring, when a lot of the big changes coming will actually happen. (Sorry, I’m not trying to be coy; some things are genuinely uncertain, and some I’m not ready to talk about yet.)

Even before then, I’m going to try to provide more regular updates, and line up some more interviews. I also think that I need to acknowledge that some of my older short stories are not going to sell. Heck, that might be for the best – some of them have been kicking around for long enough that they aren’t reflective of my current level of skill. Rather than simply trunking them, I was thinking about running a couple of those older stories here. I’d welcome any thoughts on that!

This is going to be a big year, for me, no matter what else happens. I’m going to need to be brave, and I’m going to need to strive to have no more zero days. A lot is going to change – and so I’m grateful for you, continuing to follow along. Thanks for sticking with me.

Now: Onward.

 

Three Words for 2016

I know, there are reasons to be wary of the New Year’s Resolution. They tend to be lots of fanfare, not much action — because it’s hard to change — and by the middle of January you’re back where you started, with an extra dollop of cynicism and shame on top. (And, to be clear, by you? I mean I.)

So I don’t do resolutions, anymore. Not exactly. But I do value the New Year as an opportunity to take stock, to review, to reflect. To set a new course, with updated agenda and goals.

I call this process my New Year’s Revolutions.

I’ve used different tools and approaches over the years. Some work better than others.

Last year, following the example of the inestimable Rachel Hartman, I went with one word to focus my year – organize. And I did get a bit more organized, and as I mentioned in my previous post, I saw results.

This New Year, inspired by my wise friend Tanya Gulliver-Garcia, I’m setting my agenda for the year ahead using Chris Brogan’s Three Words.

I want to try this model, this year, because follow-through is always a challenge for me. I fall off the wagon, say to myself, “Well, that didn’t work!” and eat a box of metaphorical or literal donuts. So one thing I like about Brogan’s approach is that includes strategies. And I very much like the perspective of the three words as “lighthouses”, or compass points, things to keep in my mind, to always be moving towards, rather than a target for me to succeed or (more often) fail at hitting.

Three words, three guiding stars. Three New Year’s Revolutions.

After some reflection, my words for 2016 are: health, happiness, organized.

(Yes, this is a repeat performance for getting organized. I can always stand to be more organized.)

Goal Word: Health

Path 1 to the goal: Make time to exercise or be active every day.

Path 2 to the goal: Allow myself sweets and naughty food on one “free day” a week.

Path 3 to the goal: Prepare healthy lunches and snacks in advance for the work week.

Distractions: Being tired, stress eating, not making the time to exercise or eat right.

Steps to the path: Buy fresh salad greens and vegetables all the time, so I always have healthy lunches and snacks; prioritize getting enough sleep so I have energy and willpower; make and keep regular appointments with all my health care professionals.

The finish line: Exercising 5 to 6 times a week, fitting into my size 38 pants, replacing stress eating with working out as a coping mechanism.

What’s next: Increase strength and endurance; plan and prepare to do the CN Tower climb in 2017

Goal Word: Happiness

Path 1 to the goal: Make time to write every weekday

Path 2 to the goal: See friends at least once a week

Path 3 to the goal: Make my workday commute my reading time

Distractions: Being tired, wasting time on the internet, feeling stuck

Steps to the path: Start that new D&D campaign with my friends, playing at least once a month; turn off internet on my phone regularly; write on my lunch hours; always have a book with me during my commute.

The finish line: Having regular (weekly) social engagements and activities; finishing revisions to NOBODY’S WATCHING and COLD IRON BADGE and finishing the first draft of a NEW novel before the end of 2016.

What’s next: Being able to retire “happiness” as a goal for 2017; getting my current writing projects out the door and move on to new ones; expand my reading to address some of the gaps in my knowledge and experience (like the classics, and poetry).

Goal Word: Organized

Path 1 to the goal: Check in with myself daily about what needs to be done, at home, and work, and for myself, both in terms of my goal words and in a more immediate day-to-day sense.

Path 2 to the goal: Check in with my awesome partner Sarah daily about how we’re both doing, about the kids, and about household needs.

Path 3 to the goal: Learn what needs to be done to keep our home well-stocked with everything we need and in good order, and act on those needs.

Distractions: Being tired; feeling incompetent; getting bogged down in anxiety and fear of doing the wrong thing.

Steps to the path: Make the first thirty minutes after the kids are in bed “family check-in time”; make lists of what needs to be done and review them as part of my daily processes; take quiet time daily, to think, process, and focus my mind.

The finish line: Clearing away all the “old business”, the things that need doing that I’ve left hanging for too long; having what we need at home and in our lives for ourselves and the kids, in a fair and equitable manner; being able to move forward with new goals and projects because the day-to-day is going so smoothly!

What’s next: Keep it up, because being fair, balanced and organized is an ongoing process.

Those are my three fixed stars, my goals for 2016: Increasing my health, increasing my happiness and being more organized.

What changes do you foresee making this year? What goals have you set, and what tools are you using to get there

Let me know. Maybe we can be part of one another’s revolutions.

Coming up next on the blog: I don’t know yet! I guess I need to, um, get organized?

Pretty Good Year: 2015 in review

The Year in Writing

It’s probably pretty obvious by this point that I subtitle this blog with the phrase, “steady movement is more important than speed, much of the time” for a reason. (No one has ever mentioned recognizing that quote, by the by. Do you? Let me know, and you’ll get an imaginary internet cookie!)

My writing process, given the amount of time I have available to devote to it, can rarely be a sprint, or even something as time-intensive as a marathon. Incremental progress is the name of my game; steady movement.

And there was steady movement this year, and it led to real progress. All in, I got quite a few more words down this year than in 2014. I completed the first draft of my second novel, NOBODY’S WATCHING, a near-future, cyberpunk-inflected thriller for YA readers. That included 16,500 or so new words added to the draft between January and May. I’ve also begun the process of revising it, which is a lot harder to quantify, given that words are being added, subtracted and replaced. The process is well underway, and although I’d kind of hoped to be finished before the New Year, I quite like where the rewrite is taking me.

Also begun this year, but not completed, were a polish of my first novel (in preparation for the querying process that I describe below) and two pitches for prospective new comics series that I hope to submit to a publisher in the not-too-distant future.

The Year in Submitting: Short Stories

I fell off the horse in submitting my short fiction this year; seven submissions to various markets (I think; I also fell off the horse at zealously tracking my metrics this year). That lead to seven rejections. No stories out on submission, and no responses pending.

The biggest development on that front was that, as Canada’s federal election drew nigh, I realized that my short story Final Issue had a best-before date measured in days, and decided to publish it here. It remains the most-read post on this blog this year, not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but I’m certainly pleased.

Honestly, I’m not sure I’m going to get back on this particular horse. Short fiction has proven to be a tough nut for me to crack; no sales over several years of (admittedly intermittent) efforts on my part. The stories I’ve submitted, I’ve been proud of, but I’m starting to think that my style isn’t especially well-suited to the kind of markets I want to sell to. Or, you know, I might not be good enough.

Either way, investing the time and energy in writing more short fiction is pretty far down the priority list. I mean, never say never? But I’m not sure I want to keep throwing that particular spaghetti at those particular walls.

I might end up posting more of my trunk stories here, as a result. If you think that would be of interest, please let me know.

The Year in Submitting: Agent Queries

As I noted in my November recap, I finally finished fixing up my query letter and submitted queries for my first novel, COLD IRON BADGE, to nine agents. To date, I’ve received two rejections, with seven responses pending.

The process, so far, has taken a lot longer than it took me to get rejections across the board from my last round of queries. In that case, the majority of responses arrived within ten days. On the other hand, the entire publishing industry essentially shuts down for the holidays, so I don’t know how much of December I should even count.

In other words, I’m committing submittomancy like a fiend. More news as it happens on that front.

The Year in Blogging

This is the year that I really started making an effort to have this blog be, you know, a thing. You can tell from my posting history: A total of sixteen posts (this one makes seventeen), but aside from last year’s year-in-review post, they were all between September and December.

A significant number of them were Breaking In interviews. I’m very proud of those interviews, and I want to thank all my interviewees: Your generous and informative responses to my questions were deeply appreciated. You provided wonderful interviews, full of really useful insights for aspiring writers and those who are just on the verge of “breaking in”.

2016: Better, Stronger, Faster.

Looking back, I’m kind of surprised; I got more done than I thought I did this year. You know what? I’m proud of what I accomplished.

That’s tempered by the fact that I didn’t get done everything that I wanted to – even factoring out the things that are outside my control. But then, when do I? When does anyone?

2015 was a year of steady progress, but also of change, on all sorts of fronts. I haven’t really touched on the more personal changes this year; suffice it to say, they were substantial, and on balance, positive, and I suspect that 2016 will bring more changes, and even better ones.

I plan to make my writing part of that. If this isn’t the year I break through to the next level – whatever that next level ends up being – at least it won’t be because I won’t be trying.

Thanks for being part of my journey this year. I look forward to sharing with all of you what happens next. I wish you, and all of us, a 2016 full of more and better.

Happy New Year.

And yes, the title was, of course, a reference to this.

Wait, November’s OVER?!

Yeah, November was a blur — and I wasn’t even NaNo-ing this year!

I Lurch Onward with Breathtaking Intermittency

So, how did I fare with my National Personal Novel Rewriting Month, NaPerNoReWriMo?

Not badly at all. I’m not as far along with my rewrite of my novel, Nobody’s Watching as I’d hoped to be, now that December’s here, but there’s no doubt that I made, and am making, real progress. It is, in my usual manner, slower and more halting than I would prefer, but it’s happening. I seem to have gotten myself unstuck.

But oy, the resistance. Like many aspiring writers, I have a tendency towards resistance that manifests mostly as distractibility. I’m not sure why it’s so strong, given that this is something that I really, really want. Time to write, that’s what I go on about wanting at every opportunity – if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already been subjected to that refrain more than a few times, right?

And then, when I get time? Resistance. Because surely something on Twitter requires my attention!

I don’t really get this part of myself, but not fully understanding why I do something doesn’t mean that I can’t try to do something about it. So I am.

I’ve been pushing myself harder to write in the time I have available.

I’ve been reminding myself that 250 words written may not seem like much, compared to the hundreds or thousand words I’d prefer to have the time/energy to hammer out. But it’s 250 words I didn’t have before, and that’s progress.

I’ve been trying to get more and better sleep, so that I’m awake when I’m awake and can bring my best game to everything I do, including my writing.

And I invested in Rachel Aaron’s 2K to 10K: How to write faster, write better, and write more of what you love – a pleasantly brief and delightfully practical book of writing advice that does exactly what it says on the cover. Now, Rachel Aaron was a no-day-job, full-time writer when she developed the techniques she describes, so I, with my hour-of-writing-time-a-day-at-best, am not going to be pulling any 10,000-word writing days any time soon. But happily, the advice scales: When I follow it, I find that I’m noticeably more productive and better able to maximize my writing time. Recommended.

2k to 10 k cover - Rachel Aaron - Stephen Geigen-Miller blog

2K to 10K, by Rachel Aaron. This book is seriously the real deal, you guys.

I’m not sure exactly how all these tactics are fitting together, but I’m feeling better prepared for December. Which is good, because I’d like to finish this draft and get it out to my waiting beta readers before the end of the year.

The Return of the Querying

(That title is a reference that only Greg Beettam will get. What can I say? Sometimes I enjoy a few innings of inside baseball.)

Twitter isn’t the only thing that occupied my time when I was supposed to be rewriting — I can sometimes be surprisingly productive when distracted. For instance, in November, I decided to bite the bullet and send out another round of agent queries for my first novel, COLD IRON BADGE (it was previously entitled ALL THAT GLITTERS).

As I’ve mentioned, my first round of queries met with no great success. Since then, I’ve devoted quite a bit of time to reviewing and polishing my query letter, with support from my writers group and other smart folks (shout outs to Nicole Winters, Claire Humphrey, Melanie Fishbane, Rachel Hartman and Dorianne Emmerton!) And it’s finally in what I hope is better shape.

I’m still being selective, and sent queries to nine agents who I think might be a good fit for my book now, and for the kind of books I want to write in the future. That’s a comparable number to the first batch.

We’re in the early stages yet; agents get a huge volume of queries, and it can take weeks or months for them to get to any given one – with US Thanksgiving in there, too. But yeah, it would not be unfair to suggest that I may be practicing the Forbidden Art of Submittomancy.

I’m not going to get any further into specifics here, but I’ll do a post-mortem on the final outcome, and I’ll definitely share the news if this process ends in my signing with an agent.

That was November. All in all, I feel pretty good about it. And how are you?

Coming up next on the blog: The last Breaking In interviews of 2015, and a year-in-review post.

Catching up with myself at 44

I quite liked the format of my last catch-up-and-assorted-miscellanea post, Scattershot September. Sadly, Scattershot October doesn’t have the same ring to it – I have an unrepentant love of alliteration – and I don’t have a good, generic name for this kind of post yet. I suppose I’ll just have to persevere. Which is apt in itself, because if there’s any unifying theme to this particular set of updates, it’s probably “I suppose I’ll just have to persevere”.

Sleep is for the weak, I used to say

I’ve been so tired, lately. I mean, I’m always tired. It’s just part of life. But lately it’s been more noticeable. It’s likely, partly, the change in the season, and the march towards Falling Back. But it’s also a sign that I need to exercise more, eat better and, oh yeah, start getting enough sleep.

That’s frustrating, because the one thing that I always feel is most at a premium is time. The thought of spending more of it sleeping? At the moment, that sounds pretty great, actually. In general, though, I worry about losing even more time.

But yes, I know that being exhausted and/or sick isn’t great for my productivity either. So I continue to try to figure out ways to get more rest, and maximize the rest of my time.

Writing is rewriting, especially in November

One of the things I need to do with the rest of my time is finish rewriting Nobody’s Watching (my second novel).  Per usual with my writing process, it’s been moving forward, but in rather more fits than starts. So, I think it’s time for a big push. Because I do tend to do better when I have some kind of external deadline or mechanism of accountability, I’m going to piggyback on this year’s National Novel Writing Month.

Rewriting an already-completed first draft doesn’t fall within the scope of NaNoWriMo, so I won’t be racing for the 50,000-word-crown this year. This is going to be unofficial, informal, and just for me: Personal National Novel Re-Writing Month.

Yes, I’m going to refer to it as PerNaNoReWriMo.

No, I don’t expect that to catch on.

Like, at all.

I will, however, be keeping you all updated on my progress – more via Twitter than here, but I’ll try to do at least one state-of-the-work-in-progress blog post around the midway-point, and a post-mortem afterwards.

Any year you celebrate your birthday is a good year

If you’ve detecting a certain flavour of reflection and taking stock, it’s because as I write this, I’m about to turn 44. The post will be going up on my actual birthday. So yes, it’s a good time for a little self-evaluation and some goal-setting.

First and foremost, after my big health scare three years ago, I am very glad to be here to be celebrating my birthday at all!

But if I want to keep having birthdays — and I really do; I have a family that needs me and a life I quite enjoy — I’m going to have to, need to, somewhat belatedly, really make a priority of eating better and exercising.

So those are on the list of things to get serious about in the year to come. As is trying to move forward with my writing — with revising my second novel, and with querying my first one as part of continuing to try to get an agent.

And, you know, maybe trying the occasional new thing too.

Speaking of new things, I still can’t draw

Of course, I can’t sing, either, and that’s never stopped me. But one of the side effects of spending a lot of time over the years around a lot of really good comics artists has been a certain degree of self-consciousness over my own rather limited artistic skills. To address that, and more importantly, to have fun, I’ve recently jumped on board a Twitter #hashtag game, the #WednesdayDoodle. Which is, you know, just what it sounds like. Every week on Wednesday, you draw a doodle, take a picture of it, and post it to Twitter. I think it was originated by Patrick Hester and Jeff Patterson, both of whom have been quite gracious about me joining their party.

I drew an elf

I drew an elf!

And Superman!

And Superman!

... And... um, Dracula riding a hoverboard? (This was a #Drawlloween, suggestion, including the title)

… And… um, Dracula riding a hoverboard? (This was a #Drawlloween suggestion, including the title, on ‘Back to the Future’ Day)

I’ll never be a great artist, but I think I’m a pretty good #WednesdayDoodle-er. You can follow me on Twitter to see what I scribble next, and if you like, join in and share your own #WednesdayDoodle!

Books, glorious books

I’ve never really used this space to get into what I’m reading, have I? Which, now that I think of it, is a little odd for a writer and passionate reader. I think it’s partly because I don’t really want to do reviews. But I do want to share what I love, so…

I’m almost done Leah Bobet’s An Inheritance of Ashes, and it is splendid. It reminds me of both Le Guin’s Always Coming Home and Walton’s Among Others — in very different ways — while still being uniquely itself. Highly recommended.

I recently finished Rachel Aaron’s 2,000 to 10,000: How to Write Faster, Write Better and Write More of What you Love, which is exactly what it says on the tin — a guide for writers to increase their productivity. I’m still digesting the suggestions, but it seems very useful.

And Nicole Winters’s The Jock and the Fat Chick, which is, as I’ve mentioned before, a delight.

I also attended a panel on graphic novels at the International Festival of Authors, which featured Jillian Tamaki, Adrian Tomine, and Dylan Horrocks — afterwards, I picked up Dylan’s new graphic novel, Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen, and he was kind enough to sign it.

Next in the queue: Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Envy of Angels, by Matt Wallace.

And what wisdom do you have to impart, from the ripe old age of 44?

Not much. If I had it all figured out, my scattershot blog posts would probably be a lot less scattershot!

43 had plenty of downs, but plenty of ups, and it ended better than it started. That’s good.

There’s lots of work that I need to do, in many facets of my life. But there’s also the opportunity to do it. That’s good.

There are loved ones and friends in my life, and books to read. That’s good.

And I am, as I noted above, still here. And so are you. That’s more than good. That’s wonderful.

Hmm. There’s a theme, there: “Work hard, take care of yourself and others, and remember to show your gratitude and love for the good things and great people in your life.”

That actually almost does sound like wisdom.

Hell. I really am getting old!

Coming up next on the blog: An open call for Breaking In interviews!

Final Issue

“This is your last chance, Tarsand,” Shieldrock says. “Stand down. ”

Tarsand, perched on top of the curved roof of the CN Tower’s observation deck, laughs until his misshapen, tarry, only-vaguely-human body shakes. He clenches his fist, and viscous black goo oozes from him in every direction, coating the surface of first the roof, then the observation deck, then the entire tower. The tourists, inside and out, scream in panic as the noxious residue coats the windows and the building shudders in response to Tarsand’s whims.

Shieldrock shakes his head. Tactically, this isn’t optimal. His massive granite form has the proportions of the statue of a Greek god, yes. And he’s strong and impervious to the danger posed by mobile hydrocarbons. But he lacks the speed and agility to get to Tarsand — just as the villain planned. Centennial has been diverted to stop the flocks of oil-coated birds Tarsand sent to attack the provincial legislature at Queen’s Park, and below, their teammates Boreal, Caribou and Voyageur are battling the tides of oil that threaten to pour into the lake and over downtown.

“You stand down, Shieldrock,” Tarsand sneers, “and watch while I make these innocents you cherish pay for what was done to me!”

At the moment, Shieldrock can’t remember what exactly was done to Tarsand. Is he angry at or on behalf of the oil industry, and how does attacking the CN Tower help either way?

It’s time to try a different approach.

“Look around,” Shieldrock says, and crouches to lower his centre of balance, “you’ve turned the entire tower into a death trap. Last I heard, you don’t have super-human resistance to damage and I know for a fact you can’t fly.”

That shot lands, he can see. Tarsand hasn’t lost his balance, but he’s thinking about it, and that’s the worst thing he could do. No, second worst.

“It’s a long way down,” Shieldrock adds.

Tarsand looks. And that really is the worst thing he could do. The villain gasps, gets weak in what passes for his knees, and his arms windmill.

“Careful,” Shieldrock says, “we wouldn’t want you to fall.”

He smiles, his teeth gleaming white as marble in contrast to the grey granite of his skin.

It ends very quickly after that.

#

Shieldrock is in the gym, at Headquarters, his form that of a normal man for once instead of his rocky combat mode. He doesn’t much care for it. People who’ve never seen it assume that Shieldrock is a living statue version of the ordinary mortal he was before. Not so much. Only what was strong in him comes through the change. The rest is left to the side, but still there.

His human form, that is to say, is kind of a schlub.

So Shieldrock works out. You never know when the timeline will be retroactively changed, or you’ll get hit with a ray that takes away your powers, or someone, somewhere, will make an ill-thought-out wish. Next thing you know, you have to fight Lord Threat with nothing but your wits and whatever Mother Nature gave you.

If and when that happens, Shieldrock plans to be ready.

Boreal walks in to the gym. She doesn’t look like a superhero is supposed to. Neither does he, of course. The difference is, civilians never see him when he’s not animate granite, and if they did, they wouldn’t care about his appearance anyway. Boreal always looks like herself, sometimes in costume, sometimes in jeans and a t-shirt, like she is today.

It seems to bother people that she doesn’t dress or look like the big-time American heroines. Many of those people are on Twitter. And they don’t shut up about her broad shoulders, her freckles, the gap between her teeth, her short hair, and God forbid that a woman go out and save the world with breasts of less than pornographic amplitude. The trolls online say a lot of things about her, and lesbian is about the nicest.

Shieldrock doesn’t know if Boreal is a lesbian, that being her business. He would kind of like to know.

“Shieldrock! Have you heard…” she says, but stops herself.

She sits down on the bench across from him and waits as he finishes his set. He sits up and wipes his face with his towel.

“It’s so different, seeing you like this,” she says, “I can’t decide if it’s like seeing you naked or seeing your soul.”

For an instant he wonders about the direction she wants to take this conversation.

“So what’s up?” he asks, with a smile.

“Centennial,” she replies. “He’s leaving the team.”

It feels like a punch from a Sasquatch — which is no fun at all, but that was a misunderstanding and they’re on good terms now.

“Has he been mind-controlled? Have they checked it’s not a clone? Alternate self from a parallel evil universe?”

She looks confused.

“Centennial,” he says, “wouldn’t quit.”

“He didn’t,” she says.

#

The media’s asking questions before the news is officially announced, after some junior bureaucrat in DND leaks the word on Twitter. The PMO is collectively apoplectic at the headlines.

CENTENNIAL OUT OF CANFORCE. WHO WILL LEAD CANADA’S NATIONAL SUPER-TEAM?

It’s a good question. How do they plan to replace a hero, an inspiration, a mentor and a friend? Shieldrock tells himself he can bear it. He’s the man of stone, and stone endures.

Besides, decisions made by the political leadership are to be respected and worked with. That’s his job as a hero and a public servant. Centennial taught him that.

The next day, he learns the answer to his questions, at the same time the rest of Canada does.

IRONHAND COMES HOME. EXPAT HERO RETURNS TO LEAD CANFORCE.

#

Ironhand arrives at Headquarters within hours, an anxious ADM in tow. He seems larger than life in that American way — not fake, but like he’s used to an environment that’s more exciting, more ‘on’ than this one, and hasn’t acclimated yet.

“Shieldrock, Boreal,” Ironhand greets them. He smiles like a news anchor and extends a massively-muscled hand to shake. “Heard a lot about you. Some fine work you’ve done up here.”

“Thanks,” Shieldrock says. Ironhand’s wearing a suit and tie, which just seems odd. But maybe he’s trying to be professional.

“Team meeting in twenty, okay?”

“Sure. We’re all looking forward to hearing what you’ve got planned.”

Ironhand claps him on the shoulder, and he actually feels it. “Good things, friend. Good things.”

Boreal stares after Ironhand as he bustles off on his tour / inspection / triumphal procession.

“I can’t believe they brought an American in to lead the team,” she says.

“He’s still Canadian,” Shieldrock shrugs. “Maintained his citizenship and everything. And he’s done a lot of good work,”

“In the U.S. It’s different there. I heard some things about him and the crackdown on the Occupy protests…”

“We’re public servants,” he says. “We follow the directives of the government of the day, whether we agree in private or not.”

She looks around, deflated, and seems to think better of saying more.

#

The meeting is a blur in PowerPoint. Ironhand talks about strategic objectives, benchmarks and what seems to be his favourite word, innovation. What those innovations are to be, Shieldrock can’t quite tell.

Boreal seems to have followed the thread a bit more closely. “You mentioned joint training exercises?” she asks. “What are we now, JTF-2?”

Ironhand gives her his Hollywood smile, but before he can answer, their handhelds all chirp and buzz, and the big screen switches from PowerPoint to the situation alert. Ironhand picks up the phone that sits on the desk in front of his chair, the leader’s chair, and listens. He frowns.

“Where the hell is Iqaluit?” he asks.

#

In the Arctic, it’s winter already, and even Shieldrock feels the cold. But that’s not what worries him.

The Pole People are in another one of their moods, and Polar King is leading one of the attacks on the ‘thawed world’ that are his stock in trade when he’s wearing his villain’s hat — which seems to alternate with his hero’s hat about fifty-fifty, as far as Shieldrock can tell.

The living Snowmen of the Polarmy are closing in on Iqaluit when CanForce arrives, which isn’t so bad, because they’re never much of a challenge. Mooks are mooks, even when made of snow given life by the power of the Arctic’s animus mundi, or whatever it is.

Ironhand’s tactical plan isn’t complicated, but it doesn’t have to be, not for the first wave. Shieldrock gets air-dropped along with Voyageur into the midst of the Polarmy to disrupt their order of battle, while Boreal uses her control over plant life to form the local lichens into fortifications that Ironhand and Caribou defend.

“Polar King made a serious mistake, attacking Canadian soil,” Ironhand declaims, brushing ice shards from his shoulders and hair as Shieldrock and Voyageur join the others.

Shieldrock’s pretty sure he’s the only one who hears Caribou chuckle under his breath.

“Not really,” Boreal shrugs. “It’s not like this is a real invasion. It’s an attention-getting tactic.”

“Attention-getting.” Ironhand says flatly.

“Like North Korea,” Voyageur says, “You know?”

“I know all about North Korea, yes,” Ironhand answers, “It’s a nuclear power run by sociopaths that starves its own citizens and…”

“Threatens the neighbours when it need another food shipment,” Boreal finishes. “Exactly. You know how worried the Polarians are about climate change.”

“Global warming,” Ironhand says, “For God’s sake, that’s what this is about?”

“It’s a serious concern up here. Shrinking icecaps, mass extinctions…”

Ironhand laughs. “My nephew is worried about the Tooth Fairy, too, but he doesn’t attack Iqaluit.”

The silence that follows is superhumanly awkward.

“Are you comparing climate change to the tooth fairy?” Boreal asks.

When the next attack wave hits, Shieldrock is almost grateful.

The Polarian soldiers in their Snow Suits are the real threat; the giant half-living powered armour suits may be forged from snow and ice, but they’re decidedly not fragile.

Despite his efforts, as Shieldrock struggles against the invaders, he can still hear Ironhand and Boreal arguing.

“…Not a theory, it’s a reality we’re dealing with!”

“I’m not a scientist, but… impacts …. grossly exaggerated.”

Shieldrock wonders if Boreal is attracted to Ironhand. Theirs is shaping up to be the kind of mutual antagonism that usually leads to falling in love.

He dismisses the thought, and returns to tearing the legs off a giant ice-hewn war machine.

Eventually it’s over. Polar King gets a chance to make a big speech, Ironhand gets to do the same, and enough posturing is accomplished for both sides to declare victory and go home.

As their transport lumbers through the sky towards Toronto, Boreal stares out the window at the Arctic landscape below as it gives way to scrub, then trees, then civilization. Shieldrock wonders what she’s thinking, and doesn’t ask.

#

He’s in the gym when she finds him there again. It seems, he thinks, with a flash of silly hope, to be their thing. But no, whatever’s on her mind, it isn’t that.

“It’s a gag order,” she says, tensing up her shoulders and fists. He imagines the trees outside, for miles around, twitching in sympathy.

He sits forward, thinking carefully. “Do you think you’re being fair?”

“Yes, I’m being fair,” she glares at him, “Ironhand and the government are attacking my freedom of speech because I don’t agree with their agenda. What else would you call it?”

“A professional obligation to be impartial?”

She sits down. It looks like she genuinely thinks about that.

“I’m not trying to influence the outcome of an election. They’re ordering me to,” she glances at the sheet of paper in her hand, “refrain from comment about any subjects relating to government policies or public issues.”

“They could,” he says, “just be applying the same rules other government employees follow.”

“Yes, they’re legal orders from a democratically-elected government,” she says. “To not tell the truth to the Canadian people. How can that be right? Which one of us is turning evil? Who are the bad guys?”

“Nobody,” he replies. “But we all have a duty and a role to play.”

She turns away, and he imagines, for miles around, leaves dying, falling from suddenly wilting trees.

#

Ironhand made a mistake in holding daily meetings, Shieldrock thinks. There’s no time for tensions to dissipate. It casts a pall over the unveiling of the new team uniforms — field green, with a military flavour.

“Kind of an old school, WASPy, Ontario thing, eh?” Boreal asks.

She’s right. The shoulder patch looks more like a coat of arms than anything else.

“It’s the Red Ensign. That should please the Old Man,” Ironhand says.

Boreal taps the patch on her shoulder. “I think we can reach people better when we don’t celebrate stuff that implicitly excludes them.”

“Not just implicitly,” Voyageur says quietly. “The Red Ensign is not a Quebec-friendly image.”

“God, is there anything you people won’t bitch about?” Ironhand asks.

“Well,” Boreal says, “since we’re on the subject, why exactly are we doing an exercise with the Guardians of America?”

Ironhand leans forward, in full talking points mode. “Why? Access to top-flight simulation gear. We… they have a sentient computer running those exercises. How about enhancing operational preparedness for dealing with cross-border crime? Or readiness for future joint operations.”

“Joint operations,” Boreal says, “The Guardians were in Iraq before the optics got too bad.”

“Come on!” Ironhand throws up his huge hands, “Does everything have to be analyzed to death? Do we have to obsess with politics all the time, or can we just do some damn good for a change?”

Boreal stands up. “Excuse me, I need to take a minute.”

Voyageur joins her. “Moi aussi.”

Ironhand waves them away. “Take a minute. Take ten. Then get back here, because we’re going on a training exercise and we need to be at full strength. Understood?”

#

Shieldrock punches his way through the last of the writhing robotic tentacles. The doorway behind them begins to iris shut, but superhuman strength and impervious stone hands put a stop to that. He steps through into the room beyond.

Devised by a hyper-intelligent AI or not, so far the exercise has been the standard set-up: establishing a scenario, splitting them up, partnering them with members of the other team, and giving them overlapping tasks that contribute to a common victory. Or loss.

To evaluate that, there are cameras everywhere, the flying and crawling drone eyes of the simulator’s computer core.

The small space beyond the door is marked with blue stripes on the walls, behind the climbing ivy. That means it’s one of the simulation’s rare safe spaces. He can’t afford to stay long, but nothing will attack him while he’s here.

And it’s a sign of how much he needs the break, he thinks, that it took him so long to see the obvious. Climbing ivy?

“Hi,” Boreal says, stepping into view. “Are you okay? Where’s Dynamo?”

His stone shoulders shrug. “We got separated.”

To be strictly accurate, the American hero stormed off a huff, a trail of sparks in his wake, when they couldn’t agree which path to take through the maze. But no need to get into that now. The ever-present cameras have surely recorded it for posterity anyway.

“What about Firewind?”

Boreal answers with a shrug of her own. “We got separated.”

But there’s a hint of a lopsided smile playing at the corner of her mouth.

“I was hoping to see you,” she adds. “We should talk.”

“Here? Now?” he looks around the room, and his eyes land on a cluster of drone cameras lying at Boreal’s feet. Shattered, inoperative. And encased in vines.

Her smile is wider now, but tense. Nervous. “It was an accident. You know how unpredictable my powers can be outside of Canada. Whoops.”

He’s seen this before, and eyes her warily. “If you think you might be turning evil…”

“I’m not turning evil. I just want to talk to you. Without anyone spying on us, for once!”

“Okay,” he says, and makes a placating gesture that’s probably undermined by his hands being massive and stony. “Let’s talk.”

She takes a deep breath. “Isn’t this exercise kind of weird?”

He nods. “I think so.”

“I’m just saying — you do?”

“We’re fighting an evil hive mind whose mindless minions are ‘occupying’ a pipeline. It’s not too subtle.”

“They’re trying to normalize the idea of using CanForce against Canadian citizens engaged in peaceful protest,” she says. “That’s what Ironhand is here to do.”

People who are about to turn evil don’t usually worry about the rights of peaceful protesters. “Sometimes,” he says, “people make up odd scenarios just because they’ve already used the obvious ones.”

She bites her lip. “If it was just that… I’m worried. We need to do something.”

“We can talk to the Minister…”

“We can quit,” she says quietly. “All of us.”

He reaches for a response, finding nothing.

“I talked to Voyageur,” she continues. “He doesn’t like the way things are going either.”

“Caribou?” he asks.

She grimaces. “You know him. He just wants to put the beatdown on the bad guys.”

He looks into her eyes. They’re very green. “The professionalism of the civil service…”

Every vine in the room shudders, as though in barely-held-back anger. She points at him. “I don’t understand you. I used to think you were so enlightened and above the fray. But now it seems like you’ll just put up with anything. You have a voice. You have to take a stand.”

“Political neutrality…”

“You’re not being neutral. Do you really think that it’s better not to speak out when the government does wrong? ‘Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’ I had to look that up, but at least I bothered.”

“Boreal,” he says. She raises a hand, and the vines all around him twitch and writhe. He falls silent.

“Stone endures. That’s what you always say. Does stone let the politicians destroy this team… our country… and call it being professional?”

Then she’s gone, her face a mask of anger and sadness and disappointment.

He can handle it. Stone endures.

#

There’s another empty seat around the table, and it was empty enough to start with. The Maple Leaf Table was designed to accommodate twelve heroes — one for each province and territory at the time — but the team hasn’t fielded that many since the budget cuts of the Nineties. Getting CanForce up to full strength was a campaign plank for the government. Shieldrock doesn’t understand how firing Centennial helps achieve that goal, but…

No. Professionalism. Professionalism. Think of a stone, a rock in the wall, serving, playing its part, supporting without ego.

Voyageur keeps glancing, looking guilty, at the seat where Boreal should be. Caribou is oblivious.

“So our budget increase for this fiscal year will give us key resources to innovate while aligning with the government’s strategic goals,” Ironhand says.

His handheld buzzes. He glances at it. Frowns. The screen flickers from PowerPoint to one of the cable news channels.

Shieldrock sits forward. It’s Boreal. In Montreal. Giving a press conference.

The news crawl brings them up to speed.

BOREAL LEAVES CANFORCE — SAYS GOVERNMENT’S IDEOLOGY IS “REAL THREAT TO CANADA”. BOREAL TO PM: I WILL NOT BE SILENT.

Ironhand turns up the sound so they can hear Boreal’s voice.

“…Important to remember, I’m not unique,” she says. “Dedicated public servants across this country are being silenced. I can’t be part of that, not and call myself a hero.”

The news conference looks impromptu. Boreal’s sitting at a plain table, with a woman Shieldrock doesn’t know to one side of her and an empty seat on the other. There’s no fancy backdrop like the one in the media centre downstairs. No bells or whistles.

Just a woman telling the truth, Shieldrock thinks. That’s all. He wonders if, in this age of bells and whistles and online comments, it’ll even matter.

“What about your team-mates on CanForce?” a reporter calls.

“I will…” Shieldrock watches as Boreal pauses, glances at the empty seat next to her. He hears Voyageur takes a breath. “I have great respect for the heroes I worked with for so long. We can disagree about how best to do good in the world but…”

She’s tearing up. “I made my choice,” she finally says. “Others have to make theirs. I can’t allow myself to be silenced, not in the face of a government that wants to muzzle scientists, target charities, politicize the civil service, and blindly follow a right-wing ideology that would be more at home in the Tea Party.”

“Oh, $%$@” Ironhand says.

#

The little house just outside Ottawa is as unassuming as ever. Shieldrock knocks on the door, gently so as not to smash it to splinters. He only has to wait a moment before the Old Man opens the door.

“Ah, Shieldrock. Come on in. I’ll put up some tea, eh?”

The Red Ensign. Canada’s first and most storied hero. Veteran, founder of CanForce, with a record of service to inspire gratitude and awe. He’s out of costume, an old man serving tea and cookies to a guest, yet still the biggest, most colourful thing in the room.

Shieldrock reverts to his human form — it’s much easier to sit on the couch, and it’s not like the Ensign doesn’t know his secret identity.

“I saw Boreal’s scrum,” the Red Ensign says, “That girl has spirit. Of course, in my day they’d have called her a Commie.”

“They are calling her a Commie. You should read the comments online.”

“Ha. Everything comes around again, doesn’t it? I don’t know, son. It’s gotten ugly out there. I worked with Dief and with Trudeau, and they worked with me. It wasn’t politics all the time.”

Shieldrock thinks of saying how sick he is of politics. But no, not to the Leader Emeritus.

“We talked,” the Ensign says, as they sip mugs of tea, “Centennial and me. He could tell the government wasn’t a fan of his.”

“Why didn’t he tell us?”

“Because it would have been unprofessional, I suppose. But he talked to me. He hoped he still had enough influence to name his successor, see? Put a word in the right ear, trade that for going quietly.” The Ensign takes another sip from the mug. “He wanted it to be you.”

Shieldrock stops himself from spluttering into the tea. “Me?”

The Ensign nods. “He said you, more than anyone, understood how to be both part of a national hero team and a public servant.” He makes a face. “Public servant. Mike Pearson was a civil servant. I always felt that I had a higher calling.”

Shieldrock sits back. “Me. The leader.”

“I said no.”

“You…?”

“They listen to me, you know. They want the Old Man to stay on his pedestal, nice and quiet. It gives me some pull. I vetoed it.”

Shieldrock puts the mug down. “May I ask why?”

“Because a public servant can be a hero, but a hero can’t always only be a public servant. Someday, a hero’s going to have to look those politicians and bureaucrats in the eye and tell them no,” he says, and sets down his own tea. “And I don’t think you’ll ever do that, son.”

#

The meeting is like a dinner party nobody showed up for. Ironhand, Voyageur, Caribou and Shieldrock each have a quarter of the Maple Leaf Table. If they were going to change anything, Shieldrock thinks, it should be this oversized relic of a team that will never be big enough to need it again. The time of the big hero teams is over, they say. Now it’s all about flexibility and right-sizing. It was in a PowerPoint presentation, so it must be true.

But it’s also true that the roster has gone from being thin, to seeming a bit pathetic.

“We’ve lost people from key positions recently,” Ironhand says, as if in response to what Shieldrock is thinking, although that probably isn’t one of his powers.

Caribou nods, Voyageur shakes his head, both of which are probably meant to indicate agreement.

Lost people, Shieldrock thinks, is a funny way to describe Centennial being fired from the team he used to lead. Or Boreal, driven out by her conscience and policies she couldn’t support.

“Fortunately,” Ironhand goes on, “The government has a plan to engage and retain a new cadre of heroes who will really speak to Canadians. In fact…”

He waves his hand with a flourish, and the doors slide open.

Tarsand oozes into the conference room.

Shieldrock leaps forward. Lands in front of Tarsand, fists raised and ready to deliver a beating that’s been coming for a long, long time.

“Whoa, Shieldrock, stand down!”

He drops his fist. Turns and stares at Ironhand.

“Wouldn’t want to get off on the wrong foot with our new teammate,” the leader says with his made-for-TV smile.

#

The conversation has picked up from before the disruption, but the scene is very different. They’re in Ironhand’s office. The guest chairs haven’t been delivered yet, so Shieldrock stands in front of the desk. Ironhand sits, leaning forward with an expression of earnest concern.

Behind him stands Tarsand.

“We need to rebuild this team,” Ironhand says. “To do that, we’re going to allow individuals who have erred in the past to redeem themselves through service.”

“Erred? Tarsand is a criminal. He has no regard for human life. He’s a menace to the entire world.”

“Oilsand,” Ironhand replies.

“What?”

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about the resource sector and the jobs it creates,” Ironhand says. “Addressing that is a key strategic objective for the government. Hence, our new, re-branded team-mate, the hero of the oilpatch: Oilsand.”

Shieldrock shakes his head. “You’re recruiting a villain to the team because he symbolizes Alberta oil?”

“No! No, no,” Ironhand says. “No. But we need more people. We lost the capability for long-distance environmental manipulation. We need to focus on key strategic priorities in our messaging. This solves all those problems at once.”

Shieldrock closes his eyes. Thinks of the terrified faces of the men, women and children at the CN Tower. “I don’t think the Canadian people would agree,” he says.

“The public loves a good redemption narrative. They’ll eat this up. Anyway, Oilsand has changed, right buddy?”

“Oh yes. I want to do good in the world, to atone,” says Oilsand, flatly.

“This is the directive, Shieldrock,” Ironhand adds. “It’s our job to make it work, right?”

People do change, from hero to villain and back again. Polar King has done it. And there was that time Dr. Chicago became a grim avenger of the night called Blacksocks.

And Ironhand, for all his game-playing and politicking, is right. Shieldrock has registered his objections. Now his duty is to accept the decision and support the government of the day. It’s the role of a professional public servant, and Shieldrock has always tried to be professional.

But people change.

“You’re a human oil slick,” he says.

Ironhand shrugs. “You’re animated stone. Let’s not judge Oilsand for his physical form.”

“I wasn’t speaking to him.”

He turns and walks away. The only sound that breaks the stunned silence behind him is the drip-drip-drip of oil splattering onto Ironhand’s new carpet.

#

North of Lake Superior, Shieldrock stands among the stones that gave him his name. To one side, on the rocky shore of the lake whose name he doesn’t know, is the canoe that brought him here. The guide, Tom, pushes off and leaves him, as instructed. He didn’t bat an eye when the quiet man with no gear or supplies asked to be abandoned on the shores of this tiny glacial lake — or when that man’s body changed into living stone. Tom just smiles and waves the paddle as he turns the canoe and sets off for home.

The communicator beeps again, he’s lost count of how many times. He feels the need to glance at it, but stops himself. Canada could be in peril, but it’s more likely Ironhand again, demanding that he report in. He sets the device down by the side of the lake. It’ll lead others here eventually, and he doesn’t plan to be nearby when they arrive.

He walks north, up the hill, and thinks about stone. Stone, in the end, has no say in the role it plays. Stone is apolitical. You can use it to build a wall, or smash a skull.

At the top of the hill, he strides among the trees that cover this land — trees he suspects will help and hide him, if he asks. After all, they have a mutual friend.

He puts his hand on the trunk of a tree. “Tell her I’m sorry, but press conferences aren’t my style. My protest was silent, but I hope it’s eloquent enough. And please, tell her she knows where to find me, if she wants to talk.”

Maybe he’s being unprofessional.

But in the end, it seems that after all, he’s not made of stone.

The End