One cool trick: An interview

Rachel A. Rosen on writing, and on having writ Cascade

This interview was originally published in the May 1, 2022 edition of the Night Beats Extended Universe monthly newsletter. The interview was conducted by Sabitha Furiosa and Zilla Novikov, who was recently signed by The BumbleBuppy Press. You can subscribe at https://nightbeatseu.ca/newsletter/.

Author Rachel Rosen, at ease
Photo of Rachel A. Rosen by Charlie Lucas

The Kickstarter for Rachel A. Rosen’s debut novel, Cascade, outdid our wildest hopes—fully backed in 24 hours, and doubling the goal in less than a week. This month, we talk to Rachel about her book and her writing process.

Sabitha: What’s the novel about?

Rachel: Climate catastrophe. Institutional failure. Disaster wizards. Cascade is set a generation after the titular event, brought on by climate change, returned magic to the world—for better or worse, but mostly worse. A small number of people are able to channel magical energy, and one of them, Ian Mallory, works for the Canadian government, using his precognitive abilities to keep the ruling minority party in power. But when the disaster he predicts is much larger than the usual sordid affair, expense scandal, or minor terrorist incident that he’s hired to avert, it falls to the magic-loathing photojournalist Tobias, land rights activist Jonah, climate scientist Blythe, and Ian’s emoji-spell wielding intern Sujay, to prevent a future cataclysm bigger than politics or ideology.

Cascade cover
Cascade is now available for pre-order via Amazon.

Zilla: I adore Sujay and her relateable millennial lifestyle. What was the inspiration for writing her?

Rachel: Writers, particularly in genre fiction, are often advised to make their characters relatable, which I think is a laudable goal. My problem is that in much of the genre fiction that I read, “relatable” seems to translate to a blank-slate generic character. I keep encountering protagonists whose primary purpose is to serve as a wish-fulfilment stand-in for the reader. I prefer characters who are relatable because they seem like specific, real humans who you might bump into on the bus. I had this image of a girl in her bedroom, scrolling through emoji spells on Tumblr, and surprising herself when it turned out that they worked. She’s at least in part inspired by some of my students in my early days of teaching, who loved nerd culture and seldom saw, at least in North American fiction, a main character who looked like them or came from the kind of places where they lived.

Sujay is in many ways my love letter to Scarborough, an area in Toronto where I worked for years. Much of it, including the neighbourhood where Sujay is from, is an urban planning and architectural afterthought, car-centric, underfunded, and ill-served by municipal infrastructure. And yet beyond that surface appearance, it’s absolutely remarkable: culturally diverse, artistically vibrant, and politically engaged. Sujay’s character is inspired by her neighbourhood and the people I knew there. She’s an awkward, insecure mess, ill-suited to power and politics, and beneath the surface, positively brimming with magic.

Sabitha: The risk of writing political stories is that you can be overtaken by events. Did the election of Trump or the convoy in Ottawa change your writing?

Rachel: [laughter, followed by a lengthy episode of sobbing]. I absolutely had a crisis when the Ottawa convoy happened. I mean, so did the entire country, but my crisis was very personal and self-centred as for about a month there, I was convinced that the novel that I’d spent years writing was going to be made irrelevant by real-life events. Nor was I consoled when someone reminded me that Charles Stross—whose books very much influenced Cascade— had to scrap a plotline under similar circumstances.

I started the first scribblings that became Cascade around 2015, and there was actually a line in the original draft about the US electing a reality TV star as president and, well, we saw how that worked out. It’s always a risk. I don’t write fast enough to keep up with the creeping tide of global fascism, as it turns out. And outside of satire or comedy, you couldn’t get away with writing a villain as one-dimensionally evil and stupid as, say, Trump or Putin. It would just seem cartoonish. And yet.

My only defence against reality overtaking fiction is to keep inserting incredibly bonkers elements into the plot. I suppose if Lovecraftian horrors ever do start to awaken in the Pacific Ocean, I’ll have bigger problems than worrying that my novel is outdated.

Zilla: In many ways, Ian carries the heart of the story, but you choose not to make him a POV character in Cascade. Why did you go with that?

Rachel: The main reason is entirely pragmatic. He’s precognitive. He knows the ending of the story from before the first chapter, so having him as a POV character and knowing his motivations would make it far less of a surprise for the reader. From the outset I wanted to make him an enigma that the reader comes to know through how other characters view him.

And he takes up a lot of space. Left to his own devices, he would take over the whole story the way he takes over the country before the novel begins.

That said, his POV is incredibly fun to write, and I’ve written a short story where we get to see it. (You can get your hands on it through the Kickstarter.)

Sabitha: The labyrinth is such a cool way to cast magic, and something I don’t think I’ve seen in fiction before. What does the labyrinth mean to you?

Rachel: The entire magic system formed organically, where the story needed it. Aesthetically, I wanted a magic system that was rooted in the mundane. There are no wands or crystal balls in the Sleep of Reason universe. There are cell phones, fidget spinners, and spreadsheets that channel the feral magic of the world. Ian’s magic focus was drawing, and he needed something to draw. The labyrinth was a symbol that appeared a few times in my life—I had a friend years ago who was a street artist and would spray paint them in the middle of roads or build them out of stone, and at one point I used a meditation labyrinth to get back into writing when I was going through a rough patch—so that became one of the facets through which magic gets revealed.

Zilla: This story could have been told as a political thriller or political satire. What drew you to write it as fantasy?

Rachel: Cascade actually did start out as a near-future political thriller, and it resisted being written as such until I relented and let it have wizards in it. As I said before, I write too slowly for my commentary on specific political events to be relevant, and a fantasy element allows for a degree of separation, particularly in magic realism where social commentary is expected to be oblique.

But I also just love fantasy as a genre, even if it’s a prickly, combative sort of love. Speculative fiction offers a space for imaginative possibilities that realistic settings cannot. Political thrillers and satire can identify social ills and perhaps suggest solutions, but they don’t allow for the transformation of the world as we know it. Sleep of Reason explores grim territory—colonialism, climate catastrophe, fascism—but it contains within it the potential for a radical reimagining of our relationship with the world and each other.

There’s a joke right at the beginning about how magic is necessary for Ian’s vision of politics to be realized. Perhaps the most fantastical element of Cascade is a well-meaning, socialist-leaning government actually getting elected in Canada. But this is why I write fiction and not policy documents.

Sabitha: There are a lot of writers in our audience. Do you have any advice on telling stories?

Rachel: Get yourself a community of other writers. That’s it, that’s my big piece of advice.

Most of us, at least in western countries, have this toxic notion of storytelling as an individual pursuit, the lone creative genius weaving stories out of their imagination. I tried this myself and stalled out numerous times before I started writing with other people either in the room or online. Having communities to encourage, commiserate, vent, criticize, brainstorm, and crowdsource ideas not just keeps me motivated but also adds depth and authenticity to my work. The Night Beats News’ slogan is “it takes a village to write a novel,” and Cascade absolutely took a village to write. If I’d known this one cool trick when I started out, I’d have a bookshelf full of work by now.


Publisher’s note: There is still time to support the Cascade Kickstarter. Click the link below to learn more.

Hurry, hurry, hurry! Step right up, folks - Kickstarters don't last forever!
Click here to support our Kickstarter campaign!

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Another month, another signing!

Reprise by Zilla Novikov

Reprise

I feel as if someone needs to force-feed me a thesaurus, but there it is: I am once again thrilled to formally announce that The BumblePuppy Press has purchased the rights to another debut novel.

Reprise, by the remarkable Zilla Novikov, is a story the author has been shopping around for some time and I can only be grateful that no one else has been smart enough to say “Yes! Yes, I want this!” before I did.

Granted, Reprise is not an easy book to sum up — and I’m not going to do it now. A relatively short novel by word-count, Zilla manages to pack a lot into it: inter-dimensional travel, a very funny Dungeons and Dragons adventure, romance, and a hearty kick in academia’s shins, all woven into an extraordinarily tightly-woven plot. Zilla herself described it as a “… toxic romance, slow-burn plot, #darkacademia #specfic …” which is incomplete, but certainly not wrong.

Needless to say, you’ll be hearing a great deal more about Reprise in the weeks and months ahead, as we aim to publish it in the fall of 2022.

You can follow Zilla Novikov on Twitter (@zillanovikov), and don’t forget to subscribe to the BumblePuppy’s newsletter using the form below to keep abreast of what’s happening here. (There is more good news coming this year!)

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And don’t forget, our Kickstarter campaign for Rachel A. Rosen’s forthcoming novel, Cascade has been a great success; with 20 days to go, it is already nearly 250% funded!

If you want to support a brilliant new writer (and get in on some fantastic extras) please click here. Alternately, the ebook is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

That’s it for now.

Thanks and looking forward,

That's me!

Geoffrey Dow, Publisher

Cascade Update: Kickstarter success and Amazon pre-sale

Also: Spello report

Click here to reserve your copy of Cascade now!
Please click here or on the image above to reserve your copy of Cascade today!

Launching a novel, while raising a child and negotiating the purchase of rights to other books (news on that coming soon!), can be a stressful business, but it sure has its rewards, too — and sometimes, provides some unexpected laughter.

First of all, I am delighted to tell you that our Kickstarter campaign for Rachel A. Rosen’s wonderful debut novel, Cascade, is already a great success — 218% funded, with 24 days still to go! That means there is plenty of time for you to get on the bandwagon and, depending on the reward tier you choose.

Kick it! Kick it upwards!
There is still time to kick it up onto the bandwagon!

Second, if you are not comfortable using Kickstarter, Cascade is now available for pre-order at Amazon. Click here for a “universal” link or copy https://books2read.com/u/bp8EqJ and paste it into your browser to find it on your country’s Amazon store. For reasons so far known only to Amazon, pre-orders are currently only available for the Kindle edition, not the paperback.

Finally, the laughter. Amazon very helpfully suggested some corrections to the uploaded manuscript. Fifteen, to be exact. Can you find the one that was an actual mistake?

Doomscrolling or fuckening?
Doomscrolling, Fuckening, or pants-shittingly? What’s your favourite?

Sharklust or Shriekgrass?
Sharklust or shriekgrass? Rachel A. Rosen has a way with neologisms!

Unsoup? How dare you!
Unsoup? Snitted? Thwick? How can you not pre-order, or support our Kickstarter now?

So, that’s where we’re at for now. But please consider subscribing to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss out on news from The BumblePuppy Press!

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Thanks and looking forward,

That's me!

Geoffrey Dow, publisher

Kickstarting Cascade!

What's in a cover? More than this!

Well, this is it: time for the hard sell.

After months of hard work, I am excited — nervously excited — to announce that our Kickstarter campaign for Rachel A. Rosen’s brilliant debut novel, Cascade is now up and running!

What’s a Kickstarter, you might ask?

Quite simply, it is a tool that allows creators to raise funds for their work and to raise awareness of it at the same time.

What that means for you, is that you have the opportunity to:

  • Become a patron of the arts, like the Medicis of old;
  • Pre-order a book that is sure to delight and disturb you in the format of your choice, including;
  • A signed, limited edition hard-cover volume, autographed by Rachel A. Rosen;
  • One of a limited number of autographed paperback copies; and
  • Ebooks in the format of your choice and DRM-free! And
  • Lots of special extras as well!

I have a toddler to take for a walk, so I’ll just add that you can check out our Kickstarter via www.kickstarter.com/projects/bppress/cascade.

Kickstart Cascade

That's me!

P.S. And don’t forget to sign up for our mailing list to keep up-to-date with all of The BumblePuppy Press’ activities!

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Tentacle Time: A tale of three covers

If human thought is a growth, like all other growths, its logic is without foundation of its own, and is only the adjusting constructiveness of all other growing things. A tree can not find out, as it were, how to blossom, until comes blossom-time. A social growth cannot find out the use of steam engines, until comes steam-engine-time.Charles Fort

These things are sent to entertain us.Carl Dow

Back in October of 2021, about a month after we announced that BPPress had bought the rights to publish Rachel A. Rosen’s brilliant debut novel, Cascade, Rachel mentioned to me that she designs book covers in her so-called spare time and would I like to see a concept she had for Cascade.

Well. What would you say? Of course I wanted to see it! And I think she sent me one the very same day.

And then, after a very little back-and-forthing, she sent me a design that knocked my proverbial socks not just off, but into the house across the street.

Chuthulthu rises on a point of order.

Needless to say, I was thrilled. The design was simple but eye-catching, the colours bold, and together the image conveyed a sense of place and of strangeness. How cold this not get people to take a closer look and sample the words behind the cover?

With all kinds of other work to do, what a relief it was to know we didn’t need to worry about the cover!

Or so we thought …

At this point I don’t remember if it was weeks later, or only days (and I’m not willing to dig into the archives to find out), Rachel sent me the following note and attached photo:

ETA: Fuckdammit. New concept time.

Fuckdamnit indeed …

Naturally, my first instinct was to cry foul. Surely, China Miéville‘s publisher must (somehow) have stolen Rachel’s work and adapted it for themselves! (Rachel was not so upset. She thought Kraken‘s cover was a good one, and she’s been a fan of China’s for years.)

Of course, Rachel’s cover had existed for only a few weeks and it didn’t take much checking for me to learn that the Miéville cover had been around since at least 2011.

Harm, maybe, but no foul; just a coincidence. An irritating and a kind of hard to believe coincidence, but a coincidence nevertheless. To paraphrase Charles Fort, the early 21st century seems to be tentacle time.

Of course, we could still have used Rachel’s cover despite the similarities, but appearances wouldn’t have been flattering. Since they published first, it would have looked as if we had stolen the concept, no matter what the truth was.

Thank goodness, Rachel A. Rosen is not easily cowed!

So, without (as they say) further ado, may I proudly present the cover to The BumblePuppy Press’ next release: Cascade, Book 1 of The Sleep of Reason!

Cover of Cascade, by Rachel A. Rosen.

Next time: We’ll talk pre-orders and our Kickstarter campaign!

That's me!

Geoffrey Dow
Publisher
April 1, 2022

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Black Friday & Cyber Monday or, Yielding to the madness of crowds

[NOTE: This sale is now over.]

As I imagine many of us did, I learned a difficult lesson in the early months of the pandemic: When everyone around you is doing something bad or stupid, it can sometimes become quite reasonable to also do something bad or stupid. Worse than that, it can sometimes be stupid not to be stupid.

The specific cause of that not-too-original observation was last year’s hoarding. In the spring of 2020 our local grocery store’s shelves were suddenly bereft of toilet paper, flour, yeast and disinfectant wipes, among other essentials and staples. Although we ourselves weren’t hit too hard — we tend to buy those kinds of things in bulk on those occasions when we rent a car — but the lesson was learned. When there was toilet paper to be had, I’d snap up twice what I normally would, because I didn’t know when it would be available again.

And so it is with “Black Friday”. Since every other publisher is doing it, everybody expects it us to do it as well. An event that was once some weird American custom we’d make fun of here in the Great White North even a decade back, seems inescapable in Canada in 2021.

And so, here we go …

Sale! Sale! Sale! Sale! Sale! Sale! Sale! Sale! Sale!

Starting tomorrow right now, Thursday, November 25th, and running until midnight Monday, November 29th, The BumblePuppy Press is letting you rob us blind. That’s right, for the next five days only, you can get two books for the price of one! (Note that this offer applies only to our remaining first edition paper copies. Our ebooks remain at our regular (very reasonable and DRM-free) prices, and books ordered from sites like Amazon or Chapters are not included.)

Buy one copy of Carl Dow’s brilliant debut novel, Black Grass (you can read the first three chapters right here for free) and get his collection of short stories, The Old Man’s Last Sauna for free! (and speaking of free, you can read one of those stories, “O! Ernie, What Have they Done to You?” for free right here!)

If you’re fortunate enough to live in the Ottawa (Ontario!) area and can make your way to within bicycling distance of downtown, the publisher (that’s me!) can arrange to deliver you both books for a nominal delivery fee of only $5.00. All in all, you’re looking at two first editions, signed by the author for only $25.00! Click here to buy them now!

They make great Christmas presents, too, if you’re organized enough to be thinking that far ahead.

Thanks and looking forward,

That's me!

Geoffrey Dow, Publisher

P.S. At long last, we are launching a newsletter. If you want to stay informed, please sign up!

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