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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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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

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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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Black Grass is now available

Now available in paper and ebook editions!

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.

Read more …

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Another reason to vote NDP!

Joel Harden, NDP Ottawa Centre candidate, rescues
senior trapped in Beaver Barracks bathtub for 22 hours

Carl-book-fair_2017-12-09
Carl Dow, photographed at Ottawa’s Indy Author Book Fair, December 9, 2017.

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.

My insatiable curiosity was in charge.

“Who’s there?”

Joel Harden.”

The name was unfamiliar to me. “What are you doing?”

“Canvassing for the elections.”

“Which party?”

“NDP.”

“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.

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Publisher’s notebook 002

Write what you know? Bollocks!

By Geoffrey Dow

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.

Carl Dow is a writer of the second school, smelting character and story from the mines of his own lived life, but just as much from the lives and experiences of others. In his new post, Thinking Like a Woman, Carl explains one way that the act of creative empathy can come about.


The Old Man’s Last Sauna

E-book edition only $1.99 for a limited time only!

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Publisher’s notebook 001

Introducing the author: Carl Dow blogs

By Geoffrey Dow

Carl Dow, the man behind the BumblePuppy Press’ first book, and the editor and publisher of the online news magazine True North Perspective, has adding blogging to his repertoir. To celebrate, we are offering the e-book version of the Old Man’s Last Sauna for the special low price of only US$1.99!

Click below to visit Smashwords, where you can buy the book in whichever format you prefer. (Or click here to order an autographed copy of the paperback.)

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Carl’s first blog is an account of a singular dinner party, at which Socrates was certainly not in attendance. Clicking here to read The Silence of Sounds. And please check back next week for another!

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Carl Dow profiled

The author of The Old Man’s Last Sauna has conducted interviews more often than he has been the subject of one. Late last summer, he sat down with Erica Butler of the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation, the long-time non-profit housing organization which built and manages the Beaver Barracks, a development whose genesis Carl covered in the online news magazine True North Perspective. And which he now calls home.

In short order, the profile explores Carl’s long-time love affair with flying, the history (and future!) of one of Ottawa’s important landmarks and, of course, a writer’s life and work. Read More …