New Short Story – Rec and Dec


On Spec Magazine – #117 Vol 31 no 3

My latest short story is out in the world! “Rec and Dec” is in the most recent issue of On Spec Magazine (#117 vol 31 no 3). It’s a story about redemption, forgiveness, and about found family set in space. Without giving too much away, it features Maria, a veteran space hauler, forced to redeem herself and a “green” recruit Danny who’s been assigned to her as part of her rehabilitation. They encounter a few obstacles during the story that test both their skills and their character. I hope you enjoy discovering it as much as I did writing it.

Behind the Scenes

The story initially started based on a writing prompt in October 2016 for the 20th anniversary of the Viable Paradise workshop. A bunch of VP-ers (the term we use for people that have attended the workshop) got together online and had a weekend writing challenge. Goal was to come up with a story based on a random prompt suggested by another instructor of the workshop. Our two word prompt – “snail rodeo”. Everyone wrote to the same prompt and we submitted our first 1,500 words (or maybe it was 1,000) at the end of the weekend. People voted for their favorite story. If I recall, I think I placed third in the voting based on my draft.

As with most of my stories based on prompts, the prompt is a doorway into the story, not necessarily the story. The characters and their relationships are always the heart of my stories and Rec and Dec is no different. Maria is an experienced veteran of working in space, but is a bit cynical and at the beginning of the story and being hard on herself for where she’s ended up in life. Danny is a recent recruit and definitely inexperienced in both life and space, but with a big heart. They’re forced to find common ground over the course of the story and work together.

Where you can find the story

On Spec doesn’t publish their stories online, but they do offer print and digital version of their magazines.

You can order single issues of the magazine by emailing them directly or you can subscribe to them. Details are here on their website – I’d be sure to mention the issue number you’re looking to get.

The also offer their magazine in a digital format via Weightless Books, again either as a subscription or as single issues. At last check the single issue of the edition featuring my story wasn’t up on the Weightless site yet, but should be soon. I’ll post a direct link when I do see it go up.

For now here’s the link to the page featuring all the issues of the On Spec Magazine at Weightless

Thanks for supporting me and my writing. And a special thanks to all those who read early versions of this story and helped me shape into this final version.

Return from Viable Paradise

IMG_3156Well it’s be nearly two months since I returned from Viable Paradise and felt it was time to do a wrap up post of sorts. I started a post almost immediately after returning at the end of October, but kept stalling on it. Mainly because it felt too raw, too incomplete. Like I was only telling half the story. What’s that you say? A writer at a loss for words! It happens, deal with it.

In a word the experience was INTENSE, but in a good way.

Before I went to VP I had this idea to make buttons that read I SURVIVED VIABLE PARADISE 19″ to hand out to my fellow classmates on our final day together.  I am so glad I didn’t.  SURVIVING is completely the wrong word to describe the experience.

To survive something is to endure it. To put up with something and come out the other side despite it. Like surviving a bad relationship or a really boring meeting at work.  VP is not about surviving. It’s about surrendering and being reborn as a writer, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.

Before I applied, I had heard VP being described as a type of writer’s “boot camp”. I took it  to mean that you were immersed in the workshop and that you were there for ONE thing to become better writers. It wasn’t until I was there and in the middle of our writing assignment that I realized it was much more than that.  I had spent the better part of two days attending the lectures, scribbling in my notebook and trying to keep up with all the great and useful stuff I was being told. I had no idea when I was going to have the time to process it all and apply it. I told myself, just write the story assignment and try not to get caught up in applying everything I was learning in the moment. Then an interesting thing happened. THE STORY WROTE ITSELF.

No not literally, but what I mean is that up until that point in my life I couldn’t explain my short story writing process to you if you held a gun to my head. It was just something that happened (and not always consistently). After only a few days of intense VP workshop I found myself applying stuff I had been learning without even realizing it. It was like in the original Karate Kid when Mr. Miyagi gives Daniel all those seemingly mundane and repetitive jobs to do when all Daniel wants to do is learn karate. Finally Daniel has had enough and demands to know when the old master is going to teach him karate, Mr. Miyagi has Daniel step through all the tasks – “Wax on. Wax Off” and “Paint the Fence” and its then that Daniel realizes he has absorbed the lessons already without realizing it. Young Daniel’s mind is blown. It was that kind of epiphany.

There I was having a mild panic attack one day – How I was going to write a short story in less than two days? The next thing I knew I had an outline and was banging away the keyboard well on my way to completing my story. I am not sure what came over me.

The great thing about the workshop is that it keeps you so busy that you have little time to over-think things. Just keep swimming. Every minute you are there counts, whether you are attending lectures, writing, or chatting with instructors and classmates over dinner or in the few quiet moments there were.

The week went by in a blur and in that way that time has of dilating when you are busy, stuff that happened only the day before felt like a lifetime ago and it was easy to lose track of the days and hours. The instructors and staff at the workshop were fabulous and I never felt more cared for in my life (no offence to my mother!). Since the staff are all former students of VP themselves, they are well attuned to the rhythm of the week and know intimately what the students are going through.

I felt privileged to be surrounded by so many talented people, especially my fellow classmates. I think one of the reasons I hesitated finishing this post in November was because of my inability to put into words what it meant to connect with my classmates.  It was like discovering an extended family you never knew you had. I still can’t quite describe what it means to find your tribe in the way that you experience it at VP. I am sure VP alumni reading this will simply nod along in agreement, and for those of you that may have never experienced something similar will have to take my word for it.

I felt like our class was fairly tight going into VP as we got to know each other during the almost 4 months leading up to the workshop through emails and social media, but it wasn’t until we were forged in the same fire that we really bonded. The price of admission was worth the friendships that have stemmed from the experience both my classmates and other VP alum that have been more than generous to use newbies.

I’d definitely recommend Viable Paradise to others with the caveat that it has to be the right fit for you and what you are looking for. It will not suit all people’s needs or personalities, but then again, I suppose that’s why there is an application process. So the instructors can be assured they are reaching those that will benefit the most from the experience. I know I will be applying the lessons I learned at the workshop for years to come.

Before I close, a few pieces of practical advice. 1) Bring good walking shoes. I brought my everyday shoes and thought they would stand up to the rigours of the workshop, but not even close. As much as you are sitting around for hours at a time in lectures there are also frequent walks during the week and I had the blisters to prove it. 2) Don’t over plan for food. The instructions say you are responsible for breakfast and lunch, during the week and that they generally feed you one meal a day, but I found that I had a bit too much food left over at the end of the week. Non-perishable stuff can be donated to a local food bank, but anything open or perishable has to be used up or tossed out. There are opportunities to grab more supplies during the week and the staff is very helpful in that regards.

A final word of caution. The facilities currently being used pose serious accessibility issues for people with mobility restrictions. Stairs abound at the Inn and there are weird little step downs into the suites on the second floor of the Inn. That and the lofts of the suites have very narrow spiral staircases for access. I know the workshop has a long history with the Inn, but they seriously need to reconsider the facility’s accessibility or they are going to potentially exclude a lot of talented writers based on this barrier alone.

If you want to know more or ask a specific question leave a message in the comments or drop me an email.



The Final Countdown

I can’t believe it’s October already. There’s so much to look forward  what with Thanksgiving (The Canadian Version), the return of hockey (the NHL and my beleaguered Toronto Maple Leafs, not to mention my son’s house league), and a Federal election with the tantalizing promise of political change (I can dream can’t I).

But none of that can compare to my trip to Viable Paradise in less than two weeks. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been aiming towards this writing workshop for almost 4 years. Even after receiving my acceptance in June it still felt surreal and intangible.

It’s been slowly starting to become tangible in the passing weeks with each incremental step in preparing for the workshop.From getting to know my fellow classmates online to booking travel arrangements and accommodations each thing has taken me a step closer to the actual workshop.

With the Canadian dollar at an 11 year low (It’s costing me almost an extra 38 cents on the dollar for every dollar I spend in the US) I joking said to a friend that I must really want to go to this workshop to pay the extra money that its costing me.

I’d like to think I am as prepared as I can be for the workshop, but the thing I keep telling myself is to go there ready to learn and absorb. To be open to learning from the instructors and my classmates and to not stress over the travel and being away from home from a week. Any of those anxieties will seem like small potatoes once I am in the thick of it.

Sure I’ve got that the equivalent of back-to-school jitters, but I know that these are my people and that based on what I’ve read of previous alumni’s experience that I am in for a  potentially life-changing experience, if I am just open to receiving it.

I hope to share some of my experiences of the journey via this blog, but be forewarned I won’t be updating this in real-time. It will probably be sometime in November before I’ve had a chance to decompress form the experience and put my thoughts in some sort of order.

I plan to take lots of notes while I am away, not just notes about the workshop and writing, but notes about the experience itself. I want to absorb as much as as I can of the experience.

Wish me luck and I will see you on the other side.