Why I wrote a rape scene

Okay. Oh god. Here it goes.

My first published short story came out this February. It got some fantastic positive reactions out of the gate, and then a few weeks later this happened:

A little disheartening to hear that my very first story was considered not worth reading, especially by someone for whom the political aspect of the story should be apparent. And also not great to have someone with a sizable following tell everyone that it’s not worth reading. But that’s neither here nor there. Not everything works for everyone.

But then someone retweeted a K. Tempest Bradford blog post “Portrayals of Rape in Fiction: An Exploration of Where It’s Done Wrong or Right and Why.” And I feel I should justify my choice to include a rape scene and defend how I did it. I don’t need to, but I want to. And it’s pretty simple:

Highway 16
Highway 16, near where I grew up
1. It’s honest.
My story is based on a real (and ongoing) epidemic of murders along Highway 16 in BC and Alberta. I grew up on this highway, always very aware of the danger it represented. One of my high school classmates was one of the victims. As we speak, an epidemic of serial killers is still preying on Aboriginal women in Canada (a situation that the government and the police still barely acknowledge). Writing about this but pulling a curtain over the violence would be dishonest.

2. I did it as briefly as I could.
The sexual assault and murder scene is 350 words. I focused on the sensory aspect and kept it matter of fact. No pretty language. Just get it done.

3. I gave the rapist/murderer nothing.
I hate it when movies/TV treat rapist and murderer characters like they’re interesting people. It’s fetishistic and disgusting. I’m not interested in adding to that. He gets nothing from me, and I specifically divested him of his humanity in one line, “He didn’t exist except as a medium for pain.”

4. It worked.
The story has received a strong response, especially from men. On the whole, their reactions could be summarized as, “That was harsh. Really disturbing, but effective. I get it.”

I call that a success and a good justification for writing something violent and awful.

Edited to add: Derek Newman-Stille nicely summarized the political aspects of the story on the Speculating Canada blog.

Also edited to reflect the fact that the blog post wasn’t new.

In the Shadow of the Towers TOC revealed

In the Shadow of the Towers, edited by Douglas Lain
In the Shadow of the Towers, edited by Douglas Lain

My Science Fiction horror story “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill,” which appeared in the February 2015 Clarkesworld Magazine (text | podcast), will be reprinted in the In the Shadow of the Towers, Speculative Fiction in the Post-9/11 World, an anthology edited by Douglas Lain.

The antho will be released by Night Shade Books on September 1, 2015, and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

I’m thrilled to share a Table of Contents with so many absolutely amazing writers. Just look at the names in the table of contents. These people are gods.

Section One: The Dead

  1. “There’s a Hole in the City” by Richard Bowes
  2. “My Eyes Your, Your Ears” by Ray Vukcevich
  3. “Beyond the Flags” by Kris Saknussemm
  4. “Beautiful Stuff” by Susan Palwick

Section Two: Reaction and Repetition

  1. “Excerpt from Zenith Angle” by Bruce Sterling
  2. “Our Lady of Toledo Transmission” by Rob McCleary
  3. “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” by Kelly Robson
  4. “Retribution” by Tim Marquitz
  5. “Until Forgiveness Comes” by K. Tempest Bradford
  6. “Pipeline” by Brian Aldiss

Section Three: The New Normal

  1. “Excerpt from Little Brother” by Cory Doctorow
  2. “Unexpected Outcomes” by Tim Pratt
  3. “Out of My Sight, Out of My Mind” by David Friedman
  4. “Closing Time” by Jack Ketchum

Section Four: Civilization?

  1. “The Last Apollo Mission” by Douglas Lain
  2. “Giliad” by Gregory Feeley
  3. “Apologue” by James Morrow

New Canadian Noir Launch March 31

New Canadian Noir launch March 31

On Tuesday, March 31 I will be reading from my story Good for Grapes at the Toronto launch for The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir at the Dora Keogh Tavern, 141 Danforth Avenue. The event is organized by publisher Exile Editions, and will be hosted by anthology co-editor David Nickle, with readings by David Menear, Michael Mirolla, Ada Hoffman, Michael S. Chong, and myself.

It’s not a large venue, and it’s going to be packed so everyone best get there early!

Good for Grapes in New Canadian Noir

New Canadian Noir interviewsCorey Redekop is doing a nifty series of quick bite interviews with authors featured in The Exile Book of New Canadian NoirIn mine, I wax poetic — but ever so briefly — about Bogart and Bacall. Because my first taste of noir was watching The Big Sleep on videodisk (remember those?) while babysitting.

What does “noir” mean to you?
More Bogart and Bacall than Kaiser Soze. Noir should be sexy, understated, and tense.

My story Good for Grapes is heavily influenced by the his-and-her cut-and-thrust scenes that make The Big Sleep so deliciously re-watchable.

Which is not to say it’s a romantic story — not at all, though I do believe it’s mighty sexy in its trappings. Wineries and wine cellars are extremely sexy places.

The romance in noir is all in the tension and the tone. In The Big Sleep, Bogart and Bacall’s characters are highly empowered, confident in their point of view, and in full control of their worlds. When two people like that come together, sparks fly.

The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill

Art by Atilgan Azikuzun
Art by Atilgan Azikuzun

Clarkesworld issue 101 (February 2015) includes my Science Fiction story The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill. I’m just over the moon about it.

Three Resurrections is my most recently completed story, and thanks to the magic of the Internet, it’s the first to see publication. I have three other stories coming out this year, and am terribly proud of each one. But for a variety of reasons, Three Resurrections is very much a screaming, raving, ranting child of my heart.

I’m very much looking forward to hearing what people think of it.

What editors want

A writer actively submitting stories to market might spend a lot of time wondering what editors want. I just came across this lovely group interview on Clarkesworld, grilling a bunch of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror editors on just that topic.

The story’s almost six years old, but it’s not that much out of date. Gordon Van Gelder isn’t editing S&SF anymore, for example (though he’s still the publisher and owner). Fantasy Magazine is now merged with Lightspeed.  Jim Baen’s Universe is defunct, and so is Weird Tales. But most of the editors are still powerhouses in the field, and their answers are fascinating.


My first Asimov’s

Asimov's magazine January 1984I just heard that my SF story The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill will be appearing very soon — in Clarkesworld‘s February issue.

I’m thrilled to death, of course. Three Resurrections is my most recently completed story, and strangely, it will be my first published piece of fiction. Thus is the magic of the Internet!

And something else exciting has happened recently. I haven’t yet made much of it publicly (though I crowed on Facebook* because I just couldn’t help myself). So here it goes:

I just sold a story to Asimov’s Science Fiction.

And when I found out I cried my little eyes out. Bawled like a baby in my cubicle at work. Silently, I hope.

Why did I cry? Well, Asimov’s changed my life. Specifically, the January 1984 issue changed my life.

I bought it on a long road trip from Kelowna to Hinton. I’d been reading SF, of course, all my life, but this issue of Asimov’s introduced me to the cutting edge of contemporary SF at my tenderest of teenage years.

I have vivid memories of sitting in the front seat of our 1977 Suburban, reading Connie Willis’ Blued Moon and feeling my mind expand as I laughed and laughed. Connie’s story is about linguistics and happenstance and romance and coincidence, and the sponge of my little teenage brain just sopped it up. I’d never experienced anything like it.

From then on I went to the local drugstore about three times a week to check for the next issue of Asimov’s. I bought Analog and F&SF too, of course, and enjoyed them, but Asimov’s was special. Asimov’s introduced me to the writers who would form my adult mind — to Octavia Butler, James Tiptree, Michael Bishop, Nancy Kress, Maureen McHugh, John Kessel, Jack Womack, Pat Cadigan, of course Connie Willis, and so many others.

Asimov’s made me who I am. And in July my story Two-Year Man will appear in its pages.



*And on the SFWA forums, too. Because now I’m a SFWA member! Which is another thing to cry tears of joy over.

Unauthorized Bond from ChiZine

The Dying Gaul, Capitoline Museum, Rome

This is a thrill — never thought I’d see my name on BoingBoing, but yes, I’m one of the writers tapped by editors by David Nickle and Madeline Ashby to write a story for License Expired: an unauthorized James Bond anthology, which will be published by the demented folks at ChiZine.

I’m already drafting my story, titled THE GLADIATOR LIE. I promise graphic sex, unceasing violence, and an unusual love story.

I’m taking a tip from Walter Jon Williams, genius writer and my teacher at Taos Toolbox. Walter says when he’s invited to an anthology, he always tries to figure out what all the other writers are going to do, and then do something completely different. (And no, this isn’t going to be historical Bond. It’s set in classic Bond era — the early 1960s.)

I see before me the Gladiator lie:
He leans upon his hand—his manly brow
Consents to death, but conquers agony,
And his droop’d head sinks gradually low—
And through his side the last drops, ebbing slow
From the red gash, fall heavy, one by one,
Like the first of a thunder-shower; and now
The arena swims around him—he is gone,
Ere ceased the inhuman shout which hail’d the wretch who won.

from Lord Byron, Childe Harold

Learning from the master: Alan Bennett

Without being too mystical about it, there’s something magical about Alan Bennett. When I want to remind myself what truly good writing is, I pull out his essay collections Writing Home, and Untold Stories.

Here’s an excerpt from his 2014 London Review of Books diary entries (an excerpt of an excerpt), and dammit, isn’t this just freaking magical? Looks at what he does here. Under the guise of the most casual and offhand observation but he paints a vivid socio-geographical picture in just over 150 words:

5/6 July, Yorkshire. Watch various stages of the Tour de France on TV more out of an interest in the topography than the cycling itself, which is hardly a spectator sport and tedious to a degree. The route is thronged with spectators who seem highly excited and anxious to be part of the spectacle, leaning out in front of the bikers, flourishing flags in their faces and generally making the riding more hazardous than it has any need to be, so that when a rider comes off, as happens disastrously at the first day’s finish, it’s hard not to wonder how often the spectators are to blame. The countryside, particularly in Swaledale, is bathed in sunshine and looks spectacular, especially from a helicopter, though since part of the object of the exercise is to fetch more tourists in, I have mixed feelings about its attractions. Most memorable is the scene on Blubberhouses Moor when the cyclists stream over into Wharfedale watched by onlookers capping the most inaccessible crags.

Alan Bennett is the Fred Astaire of writing. He’s dancing on air here, making it look easy.

Thank you, Steven Barnes!

Thank you, Steven Barnes!

One thing is true: Writers need other writers. Aside from the obvious benefits of companionship and mutual understanding, one of the reasons we need each other is that sometimes, if we’re very lucky and listen carefully, a fellow writer will offer a bit of advice that makes all the difference to our work.

I had one of these moments at the 2012 OryCon, attending a panel hosted by writer and life coach Steven Barnes, when he said something that made all the difference to my writing. The advice was this:

You approach a story via either story or character. If approaching via story, ask yourself this: What is the problem and who is the worst person to give the problem to? If approaching via character, ask yourself: What is the worst thing that can happen to my character? And better yet, how can I make them do it to themselves?

At the time I was struggling to draft a historical fantasy set in Versailles in 1738. Steven Barnes’ advice made me realize that I had given the central problem of my story to the wrong character. I couldn’t make the story work because there was no good reason that character couldn’t have solved the problem on about page six.

I threw the entire draft out the window and started fresh in April 2013. By November Waters of Versailles had turned into an 18,000 word novella. And in October of this year Ellen Datlow bought it for Tor.com. It’ll appear there on June 3, 2015. And over the past year I’ve finished four other (much shorter) stories, and sold three of them.

Now, I’m hardly starved for the company of writers. I’m married to a very talented, award-winning writer and writing teacher. Alyx and I talk about writing all the time, but I honestly don’t think any of these writing victories would have happened without Steven Barnes’ advice. He said the right words at the right time. Thank you, Steven!

Steven and Tananarive Due, by the way, are offering an online screenwriting Writer’s Bootcamp this January. I bet it will be superb.