Well, our Cascade Kickstarter ended really successfully. 101 backers pledged 263% towards our modest $2,000 goal. If you are among those, please accept my thanks for your support one more time!
I am working hard to get the rewards out as soon as possible, which also means I am working hard to make Rachel A. Rosen‘s book available to everyone else, as well, so that those of you who prefer to buy their books in more traditional ways can do so soon.
* * *
Beyond the support of readers, we’ve also had some advance praise from other writers. For the record (and for my own pleasure, if I’m being fully honest — as why shouldn’t I be?), here are what they’ve had to say to date.
Finally, something to make the hope-punks shut the fuck up.
A near-perfect blend of implacable horror, gallows humor, and ecological apocalypse. It seems almost absurd that a novel about chaos magic and bureaucrat magicians (even if they are embedded in the sociopathic morass of Canadian politics) can somehow feel more viscerally relevant than all the earnest mainstream novels and Suzuki-Foundation bulletins you could stuff into a ballot box. Pay attention, people: all magic aside, we’re far closer to this future than any of our rulers will ever admit.
Rachel A. Rosen is some kind of twisted genius. I wish I had even half her moves.
Finally, an urban fantasy that kills the cop—and the rest of the government—in your head. Relentlessly radical and often hilarious, Cascade will change the way you look at magic, and the state, forever.
Cascade is an excellent introduction to the imaginative prose of Rachel A. Rosen. Her debut novel takes us to a futuristic North America filled with vividly realized characters surrounded by magic and the possible end of the world. One of the few novels I’ve read recently in a single weekend. Sharp and thought-provoking, with thrilling moments and crackling with compelling ideas, I wouldn’t miss this one. I’m looking forward to her next instalment!
Rachel A. Rosen’s Cascade is one of the best books I’ve read this year. She brings a unique blend of magic environmentalism, Canadian politcking, and indigenous and queer rights to the table. I never thought I would be so interested in the near-futuristic Canadian political process!
Full of magic and social commentary, Cascade is never so witty that it hides its anger or so angry that it sacrifices wit. This is a brilliant exciting debut by an author that will have a long and fruitful career if there’s any justice in the world.
And if all of those very perceptive comments don’t convince you that Cascade is a novel worth your time and money, the redoutable Rachel A. has created something else for you!
If you prefer to read electronically, Kindle-users can pre-order Cascade here. For the rest of you, you’ll be able to place pre-orders through our site soon, and through your usual online vendors soon after that.
Don’t forget to subscribe to our mailing list in order to stay informed about this book, and those we have waiting in the proverbial pipeline!
Thanks and looking forward,
Geoffrey Dow, Publisher
Don’t rely on your social networks to keep up-to-date! Subscribe to our newsletter instead.
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/.
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.
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.
Don’t rely on your social networks to keep up-to-date! Subscribe to our newsletter instead.
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.
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,
Geoffrey Dow, Publisher
P.S. At long last, we are launching a newsletter. If you want to stay informed, please sign up!
Don’t rely on your social network’s algorithms to keep you up-to-date with The BumblePuppy Press! Subscribe to our newsletter instead.
I recently received a delightful email from my cousin David Hart, who a few months back ordered both The Old Man’s Last Sauna and Black Grass through our online store.
David’s message of May 6th, 2021, reminded me of a couple of important things I need, as a publisher, to keep in mind.
First, that people don’t usually start to read a new book the moment it passes through their transom (as I, with my own Leaning Tower of Unread Books, really ought to know!). And second, that most readers don’t ever let you know whether they liked it or not, whether by correspondence or a review.
So it is my great pleasure to present to you (with permission) a letter that made both author and publisher smile broadly – writing is a lonely business at the best of times. Now hurry up and finish Black Grass, David! 🙂
Finished The Old Man’s Last Sauna today, and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
[Carl Dow]’s apparently autobiographical stories felt the most natural and were the funnest reads. Overall, though, my favorites turned out to be the last three: “The Model ‘A’ Ford,” “O! Ernie … What Have They Done to You?” and “The Old Man’s Last Sauna.”
“Sauna” was a great way to end this collection, with its disturbingly fascinating build-up of sexual tension and ultimate oedipal release. Funny to find oneself at once cringing and eager to see if the story is really going in the direction it seems to be!
Next up, Black Grass.
David Hart is an artist, writer, and social justice advocate who can be found Twitter here.
Of course, all of our books are available from your favourite online vendors, or directly from the BumblePuppy Press in paper and electronic editions right here at our shop. And if you’re in Ottawa, drop us a line via email@example.com to see if we can arrange delivery for you!
Setting the Black Grass promo train in motion (again)
Of course it’s tempting to blame the worldwide pandemic for the lack of a real push on promoting Black Grass; cancelled book fairs and television appearances are a real thing.
I can also point to my darling daughter, pictured with me above. Though there are currently two of us at home to take care of her, she still demands a fair amount of attention (which I gladly provide, make no mistake about that!).
And there is my related work as a “daddy blogger” over at PapaZesser.ca, not to mention the time I have spent figuring out how to maintain and remodel this (apparently) rather kludged WordPress site.
Even so, despite the exceptional circumstances of our times and my own complicated situations, I have not done enough in terms of doing what a publisher is supposed to do: sell books!
After all, the stories in The Old Man’s Last Sauna range from good to bloody exceptional, and Black Grass is a genre novel that transcends genre, a story that will surprise and delight and excite discerning readers. So I want people to buy them!
But there is, as I have been learning (too slowly), more to publishing than editing copy, laying out the interior and (second time smart!) hiring a real artist, Magdalene Carson, to create a cover. No, a publisher has to promote the books they publish — they need to sell the books they publish.
So, without further ado, if you have been wondering whether Black Grass is worth your time (and money), I have written about how and why Black Grass inspired me to start this company and, perhaps better still, we have finally posted the opinions of 15 advance (or beta) readers of Black Grasshere.
Does Black Grass appeal to English Professors and receptionists? Does it resemble the works of Sir Walter Scoot or Louis L’Amour? And is Carl Dow a sexist, or was he a woman in a previous life?
Once, when having a few beers with the department head of a Journalism school, he said to me: “I’ve experienced you more than once being interviewed on radio and television in both English and French. On television you’re always relaxed, but on radio you seem nervous, at least for the first few minutes. You’d think the opposite would be true. Why is that?”
I thought for a moment then I said, “We all use body language when we speak. I’m sure that If I sat on my hands I’d be tongue tied. Therefore, on television, I’m most always sure that the camera is at least on my upper body and therefore is transmitting my body language along with my words. On radio that luxury is absent, Therefore it takes me a few minutes to channel all of my body language into my voice.”
Recently I was interviewed Peter Anthony Holder for his Podcast. The Stuph File. I spoke about my newly published novel Black Grass.
I haven’t been interviewed on radio for more than 50 years. I leave it to you to judge if I made the grade. You can listen to the interview below.
(And of course, don’t forget to buy the book! It is available in both paper and e-book editions through most online vendors, and autographed copies can be ordered directly from my publisher here!)
In 1866, about 200
kilometres south of what is now Winnipeg, Manitoba, Susannah Ross was
running for her life, and running out of time.
Black Grass is the extraordinary first novel by Carl Dow (author of The Old Man’s Last Sauna). Leavened with a wry sense of humour, Black Grass
is a riveting adventure, a grand romance in the classic style (with a
twist!), and a gripping war story set on the borders of what would
become the Canadian prairies and the American plains.
Joel Harden, NDP Ottawa Centre candidate, rescues senior trapped in Beaver Barracks bathtub for 22 hours
On Monday 19 March, 2018, Carl Dow of Ottawa’s Centretown apartment complex known as Beaver Barracks, and author of The Old Man’s Last Sauna and the forthcoming novel, Black Grass and Wildflowers: The Women Who Made McCord Chronicle, on which he is currently hard at work, was taking a shower at about 2 PM. He tripped, fell back into the half-filled tub, and couldn’t get out.
Mr. Dow, who will celebrate his 85th birthday July 15, has had five operations on his right hip. His left hip got jealous so they cut a deal, wherein the latter would have the pleasure of an operation – but only one. So far the bargain has been kept.
Here following is the story of the bathroom adventure in Mr. Dow’s own words.
I had an appointment with my family doctor, Mary Comerton, after having had bronchitis in December and then over the New Year was hospitalized for four days with pneumonia. I was thoroughly x-rayed and passed with flying colours. (For example, all my internal organs have been cleared. When I had my bone density checked it was declared as good as a male in his 20s.) But it had been more than three months since I was discharged and I wanted a sit-down with Mary to be officially brought up-to-date.
So I shaved and got under the shower. I turned and tripped and fell. (My right leg, as a result of all the operations, is an inch-and-a-half shorter than my left, and to make matters worse, as they say, the bungling surgeon put my right leg back together at a slight angle to the right. So I have to be careful. Because of the bungled operations my lower body strength is less than it should be (my upper body strength is much better than average).
Anyway, when I tripped I reached for the suction-cup grab bar, which I had tested before I turned on the water. It had been firm but when I needed it it came away from the wall like a piece of wet paper. So down I went. And there I lay for the next 22 hours.
I have always been super pleased at the sound proofing here. Twice, in the spirit of good neighbourliness, I’ve checked with new neighbours with volume louder than usual and we don’t hear a thing.
In the bathtub I couldn’t get my legs under me and there was no bar to grab. So using the heel of my left leg I hit the plug and got rid of the water. Then I lay back and waited for sounds in the hall.
“209 needs help!” I yelled and so I did through the rest of the day and all through the night whenever I heard sounds. But people make their own noise. So I went unheard. I thought that with morning and people stirring for work that my luck would change. No dice.
In the morning, (I knew it was morning because daylight had reached in) I heard the cleaner come with his floor machine. I yelled even while knowing that he couldn’t hear the faint call for help over the sound of his machine.
Meanwhile, I had written plot outlines for two movies and scenes for them. I was happy with the results after watching them being played out. About four in the morning (I’m guessing because I had no timepiece available), I was able to use the one crutch I had with me to secure a bath towel. I was starting to get a chill.
Throughout the morning I did my yelling. Finally, about eleven. I heard someone knocking on the only other door in the hallway.
The name was unfamiliar to me. “What are you doing?”
“Canvassing for the elections.”
“Well I’m stuck in my bathtub. Been here since two yesterday afternoon. Get me out of here and you’ve got my vote! I’ve been a New Democrat for more than 50 years.”
A few minutes later my Hero came back to report that para medics were on their way.
My daughter-in-law bought me what I call a “walk around phone”. My son Geoffrey, and Frances, light of my life, now require me to email them when I go to bed and when I wake up. I feel like a criminal out on parole. But that beats the alternative.
Some 35 years ago, Harlan Ellison wrote that “writers take tours in other people’s lives.” He meant that it is a mistake for a reader to presume any story is autobiographical, or that a writer’s “real” self or opinions can be gleaned from a work of fiction.
In recent decades it has become a conviction in some “serious” literary and critical circles that the adage, write what you know be treated as a Commandment rather than just quite sensible advice that a writer pay close attention to the world and people around them. This advice turned ideology has led to a great outpouring of well-written but mostly pretty tedious stories about writers and their suffering.
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with such an approach to fiction or drama, but there is everything wrong with the insistence that all fiction and drama should take that confessional road to story-telling.
Truth is, most writers prefer to look out, rather than in, and so do most readers. And, looking out, writers must be forever “taking tours in other people’s lives”. To put it in more contemporary terms, they imagine the other.
Or you could just say, they make stuff up. Readers are blessed by the works of Jane Austen and Alistair MacLeod, but we need our Tolstoys and Tolkiens too.
My wife made a point the other day that all of these devices with assistants (Alexa, Siri, etc.) all come as women by default so we’re training a whole new generation to see women as “staff” and I can’t stop thinking about that.