Thursday, August 29, 2013

Spotlight on Sunburst: Rio Youers

The Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic is a juried award to recognize stellar writing in two categories: adult and young adult. The awards are presented annually to Canadian writers with a speculative fiction novel or book-length collection of speculative fiction published any time during the previous calendar year. Past winners include Guy Gavriel Kay and Cory Doctorow.

I asked each of my fellow short-listed authors for the 2013 Sunburst Award if they would write a piece for my blog. Here’s this week’s feature, an interview with Rio Youers.

RioYouers is the author of two novellas, Mama Fish (Shroud Publishing) and Old Man Scratch (PS Publishing)—the latter earning him a British Fantasy Award nomination in 2010. His novelette, This is the Summer of Love, was the title story of PS Publishing’s first new-look Postscripts anthology, a publication in which Rio has appeared three times. His short fiction has also been published by IDW Publishing, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy, and Shroud Magazine.

Rio’s debut novel, End Times, was rereleased by PS Publishing in the autumn of 2010. His first short story collection, Dark Dreams, Pale Horses, will follow in 2011, with a short novel, Westlake Soul (ChiZine Publications), slated for release in the spring of 2012.

Rio was born in Amersham, England, but has been living in Ontario, Canada since 2001.

The Sunburst Jury says:

"In the midst of life, Westlake Soul is as good as dead. A surfing accident has left him trapped in a vegetative state inside his now useless body, but as compensation he has been given extraordinary mental powers, as well as a bitter enemy: Dr. Quietus, an embodiment of death itself. Westlake copes with his tragedy and the grief of his loved ones through soaring acts of imagination—but are they really all in his head? Youers’ masterful storytelling leaves us wondering just what Westlake is capable of doing, once he sets his formidable brain to work on the problem. Westlake Soul is poignant, funny, and extraordinarily moving as we share Westlake's thoughts, hopes, and dreams, and watch as he - and those around him - struggle to cope with the changed reality of their lives."

Interview with Rio Youers

1. I read on your blog that Westlake Soul has been optioned for movie by some very capable people – congrats. In what ways do you think WS would make a good movie, or why do you think they chose it for possible development?

First and foremost, it’s an incredibly visual story. Westlake is a superhero, of sorts, who can astral project—from his vegetative state—anywhere he wants. So we have the ocean and the moon and everything in between. We also have raging battles in the psyche where Westlake continually fights death, and these are given an almost ironic, comic book emphasis. I had a lot of fun writing these visual scenes, and I think they could translate to the big screen to spectacular effect.

Moreover, there’s a very human aspect to Westlake Soul: his determination to recover and live a normal life, and how his condition affects the people he loves—the heartbreaking decisions they have to make. This is the core of the story, obviously. It’s tragic and relatable, in book or on film, and I think it becomes something quite unique when juxtaposed with the fantasy.

Essentially, Hollywood loves movies about superheroes and underdogs. With Westlake Soul, you get both.

2. What was the genesis of Westlake Soul for you? When did you know you had a solid idea for a novel, and how did the story take shape as time went on?

My ideas come out of nowhere, and they always take me by surprise. I may hear a snatch of conversation, or see something either random or utterly normal … and then my mind is running and before long I have a partial idea. And that’s all I have when I sit down to write the story. I never plot or plan, and never know how the book is going to end. I figure I’ll find out when I get there. So yeah, I just go for it—seat of the pants—and let the story fill in the blanks. It’s the way I have always worked, and it seems to work for me.

Westlake Soul was different, though. The idea came to me in that nebulous, half-state between being asleep and awake, where you’re still dreaming but are aware of what’s going on around you. That’s where I first met Westlake, and he brought most of the story with him. I leapt out of bed and wrote the idea down (I still have that sheet of paper), knowing I had something that would work. It wouldn’t be easy, but it was solid. It was a few years before I started writing the novel ... and it never deviated from that original concept. There were blanks, of course, but I filled them in along the way, just like I always do.

3. What does it mean to you to be a writer?

That’s a tough question to answer. Maybe even impossible, because I’ve always been a writer—even before I was a writer, if that makes any sense. I suppose I should be grateful that I have an outlet for all of the weird and sometimes disturbing detritus in my mind. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d need a damn good job to pay for all the therapy.

4. What’s your favourite part of being a writer?

When you get an idea so outlandish, and difficult, that you don’t think it can be done. But you challenge yourself and go for it ... and you do it; you knock it out of the park. That’s so rewarding.

5. What’s your least favourite part of being a writer?

Having to ask publishers for the money they owe you. It happens less now that I’m working with better editors and bigger publishers, but I still have to drop an awkward e-mail from time to time. It’s never fun.

There are other disappointments along the way, but they’re all part of the job. I was recently asked to pitch for a major comic book series. I gave it everything I had and came up with a concept that I believed worked on every level ... and it seemed for a while that the gig was mine. Then the publisher/studio decided to go with another writer. I was crestfallen—still am. I’m usually good at handling rejection, but that one burned.

6. What does the Sunburst nomination mean for you, at this point in your career?

It’s an incredible accolade and I’m immensely proud to be nominated. Standing alongside so many worthy authors makes it all the more rewarding … not to mention the fact that it’s a juried award; you are nominated purely on merit, and not because you have a lot of friends/recommendations within your society or association. It makes all the hard work worth it.

Establishing a name for yourself in this competitive industry is difficult. Juried awards like the Sunburst go a long way toward helping you achieve that.

7. What’s next for Rio Youers? Anything you can tell us about that you’re working on? Oh, and are you one of those authors who doesn’t like telling anyone about his new work-in-progress, or one of those who doesn’t mind talking about it, to some extent?

Yeah ... I really don’t like talking about my current project. Partly out of superstition, but mostly because—being a seat-of-the-pants writer—the story has a tendency to change lanes and take wild turns. So I prefer not to divulge too much until I fully know what it’s about, and where it’s going ... which is usually at the end.

I can tell you that I’m pretty deep into a new novel, and that—so far—I’m delighted with the way it’s shaping up. That could all change in a hurry, of course. But for now, it’s looking good.

As for what’s next ... I have a lot of short stories in the pipeline, having worked with great editors like Stephen Jones, Christopher Golden, and Jon Oliver. I also have a novella and a collection forthcoming from Cemetery Dance.

8. What does “literary success” mean for you?

Making a living writing impactful, well-received fiction, without compromise.

Find Rio on Twitter: @Rio_Youers

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Spotlight on Sunburst: author Derryl Murphy

The Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic is a juried award to recognize stellar writing in two categories: adult and young adult. The awards are presented annually to Canadian writers with a speculative fiction novel or book-length collection of speculative fiction published any time during the previous calendar year. Past winners include Guy Gavriel Kay. Cory Doctorow, Geoff Ryman, Nalo Hopkinson and Margaret Sweatman.

I asked each of my fellow short-listed authors for the 2013 Sunburst Award if they would be kind enough to write a piece for my blog. Here’s this week’s piece by Derryl Murphy.


Derryl Murphy
Derryl Murphy was born in Nova Scotia, raised in Edmonton, Alberta, and has lived in Logan, Utah and Prince George, BC. He now lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan with his wife and two sons. A self-described “soccer fanatic” Derryl is “a soccer dad, coach, player, fan, and once upon a time even a ref.”

His novel Napier's Bones, which he describes as “a peripatetic math-as-magic urban fantasy/hard science fiction story,” was nominated last year for the Aurora Award for Best Novel. The short story collection Over the Darkened Landscape (Fairwood Press) is Derryl's fourth book and is nominated for a 2013 Sunburst Award.

The Sunburst Award jury says: "In this wonderful collection, Derryl Murphy ranges over the whole territory of speculative fiction, from hard SF to magical realism and back again. He is particularly adept at mining history in stories that twist and tweak reality, turning it into the thought-provoking “what if?” of great speculative fiction. Whether he is writing of a society where government cutbacks have created an interesting way for private citizens to make money, a legendary artist’s battle with an equally legendary creature of myth, a town where growing old is the exception rather than the rule, or a poignant phone call between a husband and wife separated by a distance that can never be crossed, Murphy’s stories mix fantasy and horror, the extraordinary and the everyday, to stunning effect."

Find Derryl on Twitter: @derrylm


To Make a Long Story Short
by Derryl Murphy

          It’s an odd feeling to have a book of short stories on the same Sunburst Award short list as four novels. It’s not like they’re apples and oranges, of course, but there are plenty of people out there - my wife among them - who feel that short fiction generally doesn’t do the trick for them, that it doesn’t tell a complete enough story. (Although let me note as an aside that my wife does read my short fiction, and sometimes she even gets it. “Last Call” made her cry, as it did its original editor and the artist who supplied the illustration for the magazine in which it appeared.)

          Like it or not, though, short fiction is by its very design not set to do the same thing a novel does. The character development is, by necessity, presented in a different fashion, for one thing. It’s no less effective if done right, of course, but there is a shorthand readers and writers of short fiction come to recognize.

          Now, not all short fiction is created equal. The shortest story in Over the Darkened Landscape is fewer than a thousand words, and the longest is over eleven thousand. The snippet that is “Clink Clank” obviously doesn’t give me the room to stretch that the novella of “More Painful Than the Dreams of Other Boys” does. But that’s part of the fun for me. I don’t write much short fiction anymore, but I do still find it enjoyable, and an interesting challenge.

           While I don’t do it with all my short fiction, I do sometimes try to break my stories into little chapters, to give the reader a sense of the novelistic. And, yes, as a cheat so I can move freely between scenes without having to worry about writing that bridge. We all have our crosses to bear.

          But mostly it’s because I like to imagine that these little snippets - or longer snips, to coin a term - have a life beyond what you read. And that is precisely what drives my wife so crazy. It’s not so easy, nor so important, to wrap up the narrative of a short story so that it finishes in one neat and tidy package. Questions often remain, and I for one am fond of those questions.

          Yes, sometimes you can make everything neat and tidy. I won’t give much away, but to refer again to “Last Call,” I think by the end there is no doubt that this is the same happy place to end the story no matter if it’s 2400 or 120,000 words long.

          I also find it’s easier to be relentlessly depressing in shorter bites. In my previous collection, Wasps at the Speed of Sound (11 stories of ecological SF - if you squint just right - that is about to be reprinted by Five Rivers here in Canada), I was accused of being just a little down. To quote from one review: “The effect of such savagely pessimistic stories in one concentrated dose is depressing as all hell, and by half way through a reader might be excused for wondering: if that's Murphy's view of the future, why does he have kids? Why isn't he hanging from a rafter some place?”


          But wait! There’s good news! The stuff I write isn’t always so down and depressing, and there are indeed stories in Over the Darkened Landscape that may even make you feel good about yourself. Not always, of course, as I do have a reputation to keep, but they are there. Some laughs along the way, even.

          Unlike Wasps, this new collection is not thematic in any way. It’s a mixture of science fiction and fantasy and (kinda) horror and what I suppose you could call slipstream, or weird fiction. I’ll readily admit that the state of the world has me feeling somewhat cynical about things, which when one is writing science fiction stories with an eco/enviro bent can make it easy to misplace the rose-coloured glasses.

          But the stories of Over the Darkened Landscape often came from someplace different; the world can’t always be on the verge of ending in my fiction, and while, as has been noted by one of my editors in the past, loss seems to play a large role in my stories, I don’t think that makes me much different than a whole passel of other authors. Loss is a factor in every life, it’s a conflict, internal or external, that can give a story meaning, give it play, give it emotion.

          So can joy or love, of course. But I don’t play as well with those.

        But Derryl! I hear you cry. You’re babbling on and on and telling us practically nothing about the stories in the book.

          Yes, well, sorry about that. I do tend to wander off on tangents. Exploratory conversation can be great fun if you’re willing to go along for the ride, or it can be brain-blisteringly numbing. I can only hope you’re with me, not agin me.

          So here, as a favour to you, are elevator pitches for each and every story, guaranteed to be as spoiler-free as possible (the last four, incidentally, all involve real or possibly apocryphal moments in Canadian history, or with historical personages. With a minor sprinkling of the fantastic of some sort. So there is that to consider. I call them my “Magic Canada” stories).


          Body Solar:

          Rich European

          Goes on a tour out in space

          Problems occur



         Satirical look

          At the culture of our land

          Yes, some things have changed


        Frail Orbits:
        Tired old astronauts

        Landlocked and suffering

       Given a last chance


          Voyage to the Moon:

          Climbing the beanstalk

          A fairytale astronaut

          Giant on the Moon


          Last Call:

          A final call home

          What do you say at the end

          When they’re your last words?


          The Cats of Bethlem:

          A true story of

          HG Wells and Louis Wain

          Antiques Roadshow told me so


          More Painful Than the Dreams of Other Boys:

          A former child cop

          An adult now, feeling lost

          Back to solve a crime


          The Day Michael Visited Happy Lake:

          In rummage sale books

          A boy finds old memories

          Not his, come to life      


          Clink Clank:

          A child hears noises

          Mom and Dad need some money

          Hey kid. Come down here.


          Northwest Passage:

          Based on true events

          When my grandpa was up north

          Ghosts might be made up


          Cold Ground:

          If Louis Riel

          Had some magical powers

          Some things might have changed


          Over the Darkened Landscape:

          A Prime Minister

          In our time but not in his

          Solves crimes with his dog


          Ancients of the Earth:

          Cave men and mammoths

          Amidst the Yukon Gold Rush

          That was some meal

          Spoiler-free and full of mediocre doggerel! How lucky can a person be?

          Truth be told, I think you’ll find the stories in the book more entertaining, more thoughtful, more full of adventure and whimsy and despair and joy than you do my feeble and flailing attempts at haiku. I feel very privileged that the judges thought so, not only so much that they were willing to honour this book alongside four other fine books, but that they even used the pejoratives “wonderful” and “stunning.”

          Which, if it had been a collection of poetry, I think you can guess how that would have turned out.

For more information on The Sunburst Awards:

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Fantastic Four: Spotlight on Sunburst

First, I felt weird writing that headline as "The Fantastic Five" because, really, who besides Donald Trump does that, calling himself "fantastic"? Rhetorical question - moving right along. And yet it feels slightly disingenuous to say it's only "five" since I'm nominated, too. Fact, is I'm planning to shine a light on the other four nominees only, and they're all fantastic, writing "literature of the fantastic," per se, and so, there ya go. I can do that - it's my blog, after all.

So who gets nominated for a Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic? Turns out, not just anybody. I'm on the list of 5 authors with books short-listed for the 2013 award in the adult category. Named after the first novel by Phyllis Gotlieb (1926–2009), one of the first published authors of contemporary Canadian science fiction, the awards consist of a cash award of $1,000 and a beautifully crafted medallion which incorporates a specially designed "Sunburst" logo.

The award winner will be announced in Toronto in September. Meanwhile, I thought it would fun and useful to pay homage to the other four authors nominated, some of which might be unknown to many of my own readers, just as some of them are relatively new to me. This year's field includes the following:

Maleficium by Martine Desjardins (translated by Fred A. Reed and David Homel), which was also nominated for the Governor General's Award (French fiction) last year

- Over the Darkened Landscape by Derryl Murphy, a Best Novel finalist at the Prix Aurora Awards.

- The Blondes by Emily Schultz, who was has been long-listed for the Giller Prize and been a finalist for the Trillium Prize.

- Westlake Soul by Rio Youers, who has previously been nominated for the British Fantasy Prize.

I'm proud to be included among this talented group with my first novel Finton Moon, thanks to a stellar group of judges that includes accomplished authors Leon Rooke, Rebecca Bradley, Tony Burgess, Shari LapeƱa and Barbara Roden.

It would be easy to just bask in the glory of this nomination while, at the same time calculating my relatively slim chances of actually winning the award, considering the company I'm keeping. The reality, however, is that only one of these five authors will win the award, while the other four of us really can only feel honoured to have been chosen among the top 5 books of literature of the fantastic in the entire country - and, really, beyond, as winners don't always reside in Canada - out of a list of more than a couple of hundred books. The idea of awards, however, isn't just to honour one author (or maybe I'm the only one who thinks that) - but to say to each nominated individual, "Hey, nice job - you stood out this year. Keep it up. Hope this short-listing brings you some attention in a very crowded field."

So, I thought the best thing would be to highlight each author individually, give them their due and hopefully expose them to some new readers. I've asked each of the other four nominees in the adult category to consider submitting something for my blog that would tell my blog readers who they are, leaving it up to them what to write about - the other option being a short interview. We'll see how that goes. But over the next few weeks, I'll be posting a piece about a different nominee.

This week, starting on Wednesday, I'll be featuring Derryl Murphy. This weekly feature requires some setup, as you've seen, and I thought it would be unfair to Derryl to have him follow such an enormous information dump. So, over the next four Wednesdays, expect to see a short piece about and/or by each short-listed author for the 2013 Sunburst Award.

If there is time before the awards are announced, I'll also do a short piece one week encompassing the 5 finalists in the young adult category, which also features high quality writers: Corey Doctorow, Rachel Hartman, Susan Juby, Moira Young and Michel Bedard.

It's my sincere hope that, like me, you'll take this opportunity to discover some new writing from some very fine writers of Canadian literature that strays from the straight and narrow path and crosses into a variety of genres. I think you'll find it an entertaining venture.


P.S. There were a LOT of other books considered this year and a LOT of very fine writers and books. There could only be five short-listed books, but there are many more worth your consideration. Here's the full list of books considered for the 2013 Sunburst Awards: