Poet's latest collection sure to eat your brain

"Asa Boxer’s sharply crafted poems consistently draw the living into deep focus. His edge-of-chasm calmness and his way of softly imploding the human experiment – vicious yet tender – results in poetry that swallows its own barely contained mythologies. The poems in The Narrow Cabinet: A Zombie Chronicle will worm into your inward most searches and set up camp. Deliciously insidious.

Harry Posner, poet, author of Malware: A Novella Trilogy



K.R. Wilson

When I was studying music at university it was common knowledge that 19th century composer Richard Wagner was a vile anti-Semite. He even published a sickening pamphlet on the subject—anonymously, which tells you a lot—when he was in exile in Zurich in the mid-nineteenth century. What was—and is—less well known is that he had a lifelong interest in the Buddha. He even wanted to write an opera about him, though he never did.

For most of my adult life I’ve been puzzled by the startling disconnect between Wagner’s appalling intolerance and his fascination with one of history’s great teachers of compassion. I felt like wanted to write something about it, but I didn’t know exactly what.

As a writer, I’ve always been fond of science fiction novelist Stephen R. Donaldson’s observation—in the afterword to his novel The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story—that sometimes an idea “stubbornly refuses to grow” until it is “intersected by [a] second. And then: Step back, boys and girls. She’s a gusher.”

The second idea in my case was the legend of the Wandering Jew. There are plenty of versions of the story. The most common seems to be that someone in Jerusalem insulted Jesus in some way and was cursed for it with immortality. Another possible origin is in Jesus’ comment “There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” Which might mean it’s supposed to be more blessing than curse. Maybe.

There’s also a non-Bible-related variation of the legend in Wagner’s opera The Flying Dutchman. Step back, boys and girls. The intersection of those two ideas opened the initial concept out to include … well, pretty much any other chunks of history that I found intriguing and that connected back to the original ideas in some way. The westward spread of Buddhism? Check. The wanderings of Jesus and his disciples? Check.

And once the connections started, they just kept coming. Wagner wrote an interminable opera cycle about the Norse gods? Hey, I’d always wanted to dig into Norse mythology. And when I did, I discovered the since-debunked notion that Thor and Odin were actually refugees from the fall of Troy. Which was basically a transparent contrivance by Christianized Vikings to hang on to their old stories. But it was too delicious to ignore.


By that point I knew I wanted a first-person narrator. Where could he be from? Well, that depended on who else was in the neighbourhood of Troy at the time of its fall. I had a look at a historical map.

Hello Hittite empire.
I was going to need some Hittite names.
They had a sun god named Ishtanu.
Hello Stan.

From the outset, Stan wanted to be cheeky. I loved that about him. It made him great fun to write. And it brought a freshness and immediacy to the historical writing. Because Stan was looking back across his 3200-year life from the present day, I had license to be as wry and anachronistic with his language as I wanted to. And oh, I wanted to.

Not all of the eras I ended up exploring connected directly back to the original ideas. Years ago I’d read a book about how the Black Death in the 14th century reshaped social and economic structures in Europe. I dug back into that, and discovered the proto-democratic Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Which seemed like a good fit for Stan.

I also happened upon a book of travel essays written in the 1950s by Ian Fleming—the creator of James Bond—called Thrilling Cities. I was struck by his descriptions of culture and espionage in post-war Berlin. Again, seemed like a good fit.

At one point I’d planned to have Stan’s life track the history of western classical music. That ambition was too grand for the finished product, but it did lead to a section that links the Biblical and medieval worlds through a stint Stan spends as the music director of the original Benedictine monastery. No, really. It’s more interesting than it sounds.

Something I knew from the start was that I didn’t just want to plunk down a set of loosely organized historical vignettes and say to the reader, “Here you go.” I needed a unifying narrative. I found it by having the book open with Stan being questioned in a Toronto police interview room about an initially unspecified crime, with the novel’s overarching conceit being that he’s relating the historical elements of his life to his interrogator. That let me pull the novel together as a whole through a book-long present-day arc with elements of crime fiction. (As if poor Stan wasn’t grappling with enough genres already.) It also gave me another space where I could let the historical and present-day narratives comment on one other. And tease the reader along to the book’s final confrontation in the library of Stan’s Toronto mansion.

Call Me Stan went through many iterations along the way to its published form. The first draft was fifty-thousand words longer. Whole historical periods were cut out and set aside. I’m content, though, that, in the end, I managed to tie its disparate elements together into a coherent and engaging whole.

But isn’t all of this really more about how I wrote it than why? Why did I write it?

Because I wanted to wrestle with some big ideas. Because I’d discovered a compelling character and wanted to watch him deal with his immortality. Because I felt like making some lesser known areas of history fresh and accessible. Because history gives a writer nice opportunities for sneaky observations about the present. Because I like a possibly unreliable narrator. Because I like an engaging story. And because writing is just such great, jolly fun.

K.R. Wilson was born in Calgary and lives in Toronto. An Idea About My Dead Uncle, the winner of the 2018 Guernica Prize for Literary Fiction, grew out of the journey he and his wife made to China to adopt their daughter, and the research into Chinese history and culture that it inspired. Call Me Stan is his latest book.


by Elaine McCluskey

“When people say their lives were ruined by one random mistake they are usually lying. That DUI. Setting that rack of clothes on fire at Winners. Sleeping with someone’s mom. If you do a forensic audit, you will usually find that the mistake is often the last in a series of very stupid mistakes.” —From Rafael Has Pretty Eyes

Brian is the lone employee on duty in an overlit payday loan company. He is there because he made a very stupid mistake. It was not the first time that Brian screwed up, but this time the consequences were real. Brian, a former big-bucks radio personality, now spends his days sipping cheap wine from a Thermos and dealing with “the daily carnival of loaners, criminals, screw-ups, recidivists, and petty philanthropists, who could be divided into two groups: the people who have a plan and those who don’t.” Brian has a plan, but he may not have the means to execute it. He has his eye on a modest Acadian house on the Atlantic ocean, a house that contains stairs and air. You can breathe in a house with stairs, he tells himself, you can breathe. While Brian imagines life outside a plexiglass booth, he navigates the murky interactions of a payday loan business named Your Money.

Brian’s place of employment is the setting for 'It’s Your Money', one of seventeen stories in my new collection, Rafael Has Pretty Eyes, published by Goose Lane Editions in Fredericton.

“According to its website, the average Your Money customer is your average Canadian: thirty-three years old, employed, with an annual income around the national average. The majority of Your Money customers have a traditional bank account “but prefer to use Your Money for (a) quick service, (b) convenient locations, or (c) non-traditional hours.” According to real life, the average Your Money customer is (a) hiding money from creditors or an ex-spouse, (b) getting paid under the table (contractors, tradesmen, mainly), (c) a problem gambler, (d) a drug dealer, (e) a one-timer with an actual emergency, or (f) just too stupid to know better. Under f, you will find people who post bitter homilies online.”

When I talk to other writers about writing short stories, I sometimes ask: “Where do you start? Is it with a character, a setting, or a dilemma: either internal or eternal?” Often, I start with a character, but in this collection, I found myself more than once starting with setting. I wanted the setting to be an element.

With that in mind, I set my stories in, among other places, a payday loan company, a doomed political roast, and a bar where something bad just had to happen. In one story, I did start with a character. A man who is inherently dislikeable—he never said the right thing. That is his dilemma. He works at a seniors’ home on Prince Edward Island, but he could be working anywhere. The story is narrated by a comfort dog assigned to him for his anxiety. The dog’s name is Beau, and he received his training in a southern US prison.

Through the dog’s eyes, we see two sides of the man, nicknamed Skunk Boy because of a distinctive white streak in his hair. Unlike Skunk Boy, Beau is blessed with the gift of being likeable. Some of my characters find salvation—one woman receives an organ transplant. Others are not saved from life or themselves.

Why does a young teen decide to run away? How do you know if your time is up? As a character laments: “You go through life convinced you’re going to get diabetes like your old man and one day you choke to death on chicken gristle, and the autopsy shows your blood sugars were perfect." Some stories are absurd takes on the absurd. An editor who was terminated by the newspaper where he worked for thirty years receives a tone-deaf Exit Interview from HR. Among the questions asked are: how did you like working here? and would you recommend us? His responses in Would You Recommend Us? border on madness. This story was inspired by an actual exit interview I received at a time when the newspaper business was shrinking. That is what made it absurd: the context. I wrote these stories to explore the mistakes, bad breaks, and circumstances that place individuals at a personal crossroads.

To quote Goose Lane, my characters are “characters who have reached a four-way stop in life; some are deciding whether to follow the signs or defy them; others find a sinkhole forming beneath their feet.” Rafael Has Pretty Eyes is my fourth collection, and I wrote the stories one by one, not knowing how they would fit together. Some had already been published in literary journals such as The Antigonish Review, some had not. This book is an extension of my practice of writing about outliers on the fringes of society. It is set in the Maritimes, and while it reflects the tone and habits of the region, the dilemmas it explores are universal. My writing has been described as darkly humorous and I use humour to manage blows that could otherwise destroy us.

With this book, I will have published 67 short stories, a number that surprises me. The Watermelon Social contains ten, Valery the Great nineteen, and Hello, Sweetheart twenty-one. I have a favourite story from each collection. I do not feel that a story has succeeded if it cannot elicit an emotional reaction from readers and/or surprise them. Below is an excerpt from It Will Happen, my favourite story in Rafael Has Pretty Eyes.

“James d’Entremont had been running for the bus. The No. 99 had never — in thirty years — arrived at the same time and on this day it was early. James couldn’t afford to be late for school, he couldn’t afford trouble, so he ran — hoping that the driver with the creepy-clown tattoo would not pull away, pretending, as he often did, not to see him. It is hard to describe what it feels like to be hit by 3,500 pounds of metal, travelling at fifty kilometres an hour. The bumper of a 1996 Dodge Grand Caravan hit James’s right hip, sending him skyward. James’s spiral through the air felt to be in slow motion, and he could later recall the vague sensation of one Adidas track shoe flying off. People turned their heads when it happened because the sound was awful: the sound of fear, the thud of the unforeseeable, a low lament from the pavement.”

Elaine McCluskey is the author of three acclaimed short-story collections — Hello, Sweetheart; Valery the Great; and The Watermelon Social — and two novels, Going Fast and The Most Heartless Town in Canada. She is a Journey Prize finalist and her stories have appeared in journals such as The Antigonish Review, Room and subterrain. She lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.


Aaron Tucker

As the back cover copy for Catalogue d’oiseaux states, the book didn’t start as a book but as a series of daily emails I was writing to my partner Julia Polyck-O’Neill while she was teaching in Mainz, Germany. While this is true, it’s also the sort of myth-making that goes into framing and promoting a book. Many of the seeds of the book do echo back to those emails, but once Julia and I talked about the writing and our traveling potentially being reshaped into a book for a reading public, we decided to keep most of those original emails to ourselves. In this way there is a much more private and intimate shadow version of this book, a word document collecting them in a row that I gathered to make sure they weren’t lost. It’s a lot more ragged, and closer to the Kathy Acker-Mackenzie Wark I’m Very into You than what the manuscript ended up being - when I re-read the Acker-Wark book, I’m struck by how brave a book it is, and how I would never want my unedited, raw emotions out in the world forever. Those original emails I wrote to Julia came from a place where I was extreme lonely, fractured by the 6 hour time difference, and desperate for her, waiting months between visits, and writing stream-of-consciousness conceits that brought together the erotic and the sincere. Going back through those emails, I’m proud of them, but they are only for the two of us.

It’s not to say Catalogue d’oiseaux is watered down, but it has a different intent, a different emotional and intellectual interest than the original emails. This was part of the reason why I wanted to transform those emails: I have always deeply enjoyed love poems and wanted to contribute to that genre in no small part because I was incredibly in love and wanted to celebrate that face and the various winding paths that lead each of us to other. When I stepped back from those initial feelings, I saw a collection of fractals, gorgeous and memorable experiences that I wanted to share. After that, when I thought about those emails becoming something else, the intellectual part of my brain started to speak a bit more loudly, the part that likes the puzzle of a beautiful image in multiple languages and sensations. In many ways, I am frustrated by this side of myself - I almost always take a over-rational approach to writing and communication, always interested in texts as projects that require the wrangling of other texts, voices, spaces, artworks from as many different directions as possible so as to make a multi-faced complete object. This desire for completeness frustrates me, in part because I love it when other authors take chances in leaving works in the indeterminate spaces of affect; I’m thinking here of Margaret Christakos’s work, whose masterful communicating of emotions with incredible intellectual heft is something I so admire.

Still, the middle drafts of Catalogue d’oiseaux regained some of the messiness of the original emails, but by the time I had sent it to Karen Solie, who graciously and generously edited the work, I had already been trading some of the private moments for poetry. This translating was the negotiation I agreed to in making a book, a consideration of the reader and how they might enter into the insular world of a couple and emerge with their resonances and cares. Ultimately, this required a draft that was about 15 pages shorter. I learned an incredible amount from Karen about writing: there was so much that became clearer, more affective, when allowed to be read on its own, without bracing or explanation; too, not everything I thought was interesting or powerful was, and seeing the text outside myself, while still letting it remain so personal, was achieved almost completely in editing, under the power of Karen, with the sweat of re-writing in opposition to the blurting of those first emails.

When I look back now, nearly a year after publication, I see those three very distinct versions and the ways each serve each other, each teaching me different aspects of myself, my relationship, and my writing. Like the Olivier Messiaen composition the book takes its title from, when considered together, there are all movements in an entire piece, even if the audience for certain parts are a single pair of lovers in front of the fireplace of their apartment, warmed and glowing.

Aaron Tucker was born and raised on traditional Syilx territory in Lavington B.C. and now lives in Toronto as a guest on the Dish With One Spoon Territory. His novel, Y (2018), was translated into French as Oppenheimer in 2020. He is also the author of two previous poetry collections, including Irresponsible Mediums: The Chess Games of Marcel Duchamp (Book*hug Press, 2017). He is currently a PhD candidate in the Cinema and Media Studies Department at York University where he is an Elia Scholar, a VISTA Doctoral Scholar, and 2020 recipient of the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Doctoral Scholarship.

why i wrote this book:
claudette on the keys

by Joanne Culley

Claudette on the Keys was inspired by the real lives of my grandparents, Harry and Ida Culley (stage name Claudette) who were a popular piano duo in the 1930s. They played on two pianos with four hands on radio as well as onstage. At the time they were dubbed “Toronto’s Premier Two-Piano Artists.” When they lost their radio work and home in Toronto during the Depression, they travelled to London to work on Radio Luxembourg and tour the music hall theatres there. I took the germ of their experiences to create a fictionalized narrative.

When I was young, Claudette was a role model for me of a self-confident woman who had lived a fulfilling life. She entertained us by playing songs such as “Tenderly,” “The Man I Love,” and “Stardust.” Her hands flying over the keys, she’d look over at us smiling and ask what we’d like to hear next.

Claudette was a child prodigy. A beautiful girl, with curly blond hair and a winning smile, she was a natural performer. In 1905, at the age of eight, she demonstrated pianos for the R. S. Williams company at the Canadian National Exhibition. In a flyer produced for the event, she was described as “the most wonderful child pianist ever heard in Canada.”

She left school at age 13 to play for the silent movies in the Toronto nickel theatres, which was where she met Harry who was performing across the street. After marriage, they became the Black and White Spotters, a two-piano four-hands team, performing until 1936, at the height of the Depression, when their work evaporated. But when she played free of charge for a charity concert at Shea’s Hippodrome, Claudette happened to meet a British talent agent who was impressed by her virtuosic rendition of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” He invited her and Harry to come to England where she experienced firsthand the rise of fascism there and in Germany. Whenever she was struggling, she drew inspiration from her movie-star heroine Claudette Colbert.

Hard Times for Musicians Past and Present

The 1930s were a time of great inspiration in music. Many of the standards we know and love were written at that time, those by George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, who was not only a pianist, but a prolific composer. His songs “Ain’t Misbehavin” and “Honeysuckle Rose” are still popular today. I always think how thrilling it must have been to play those pieces for the first time. “Pennies from Heaven” and “Happy Days are Here Again” had lyrics that were meant to lift people’s spirits. Many will remember the Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger musicals from that time, with their lavish sets and choreography that provided an escape from the poverty that people were experiencing.

During the pandemic, we’ve become aware of how essential the arts, especially music, are to our lives, keeping our spirits up, and perhaps giving voice to feelings that we have trouble expressing. Musicians’ livelihoods have been drastically affected by the drop in live shows and delay in album releases. As in the pandemic, musicians were hit hard during the Depression years. People couldn’t afford to buy tickets for live performances or buy records. Now, as in the past, musicians’ livelihoods are unstable and many don’t know where their next paycheque is coming from.

Difficulties for Women

Sometimes we forget that women did not always have the rights we have today. Throughout the lockdown, while sorting through a box of my grandparents’ possessions, I came across their passport from 1936. Yes, their passport, not passports, as at that time, married women were listed on their husband’s passport – they didn’t have their own document. Inside, their photos were placed side by side, and on the opposing page, my grandfather’s information took up two-thirds of the page and he was listed as “musician,” while my grandmother’s details took up just a third of the page, and didn’t list her profession, even though she was as famous or even more famous than her husband.

Even though women could vote in Canada in 1918 and officially became persons in 1929, the concept of their being independent entities while travelling took a lot longer. Sometimes married women could not travel on their own when their husbands could do so freely. In the novel, Claudette encounters numerous difficulties as a woman travelling on her own with a marital passport in pre-war continental Europe, and meets face to face with Nazi officials who detain her on suspicion of espionage. She attracts attention by the mere fact of travelling without her husband. In 1947 in Canada, married women were finally allowed to have their own passports, when the Canadian Citizenship Act came into effect.

The real and fictional Claudette broke through the strictures of her time, becoming an equal partner in her marriage and profession. As I get older, I realize how her creativity and resilience have helped me face challenges in my own life, especially during the pandemic. And she also showed me that being beautiful and charming doesn’t hurt.

Joanne Culley is the author of two books, Love in the Air: Second World War Letters and the novel Claudette on the Keys. Her work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Peterborough Examiner, Our Canada, on CBC, Bravo Network, Rogers Television, TVOntario, and in several anthologies. She received the "In Celebration of Women" media award for her documentary "Be My Baby." She grew up in Toronto and now lives in Peterborough, Ontario.

why i wrote this book:
Maud and Me

by Marriane Jones

ONE MORNING, TWENTY YEARS AGO, when my husband and I were living on the edge of a beautiful inland lake in northwestern Ontario, an image formed itself in my mind. It was a picture of a middle-aged woman kneeling in her garden and looking up to see the late Lucy Maud Montgomery. The impression was so strong that I put down my cup of coffee, grabbed a pen and notebook and began to write.

My pen flew as I wrote down words that seemed dictated to me. After five pages, the words stopped, and I found myself rereading the first chapter of what would become my novel Maud and Me. I had been a writing for many years but had never experienced anything like this before. The narrative before me felt important on some level that I couldn’t define. I had to follow it to see where it led.

At that time, I had left my teaching job after suffering a breakdown. With the help of a counselor, I processed the issues that had led to this place, from being a busy, productive teacher/artist to someone who had panic attacks in the grocery store. With our black, part- Newfoundland dog Sasha, I went for long walks around the lake. And I made use of the endless stretch of newly freed hours to write. Out of that time and introspection came poetry, magazine articles, books—and Maud.

In order to learn more about the real person behind Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon, I ordered the set of Montgomery’s Selected Journals, edited by Drs Rubio and Waterston. They were not a “quick read”, covering as they do, her life from 1889 to 1942. But they immersed me in her struggles and achievements, her strong-willed, inciteful personality, and her definite, articulate opinions. They familiarized me with her voice. And I began to understand why her image had appeared to me as an invitation to explore the relationship between her and my protagonist Nicole.

Maud was the product of a strict Presbyterian upbringing by her maternal grandparents. Having suffered the loss of her mother at the age of two, and abandonment by her father, she was an imaginative, creative child in a household and community that had little use for imagination or the arts. Maud never suppressed her love of literature or her determination to become a writer, but she had to subjugate those impulses to the demands of a stern environment. She mastered the ability to conform outwardly while stubbornly nurturing her true nature through her passion for nature and literature and maintaining a prolific writing habit. She maintained that practice through a long and difficult marriage to the Reverend Ewan MacDonald.

As she described in her journal, she fulfilled all the many and arduous duties of a minister’s wife after rising early to work on her books. But the pressure and loneliness took their toll. Like her husband Ewan, she suffered from depression and ill health that ultimately culminated in her suicide in 1942. Nicole, the protagonist of Maud and Me, is also married to a minister, and struggling with, as she puts it, “the feeling of having stepped into the wrong movie. All the other characters seemed at home with their lines, while I was always struggling with the urge to pick the script apart.” But Nicole is less successful than Maud to maintain a dual life.

​Like Maud, she was abandoned by her father without explanation. Her bitter, controlling mother taught her much about duty but little about joy. And like Maud, Nicole is a creative artist who finds little understanding or support for her gift in the narrow environment she and her husband inhabit. Longing for a friend who understands, she finds in Maud someone she can vent to and share stories with.

The fact that Maud died before Nicole was born is a conundrum Nicole doesn’t try to analyze. All she knows is that perhaps she would be wise to keep her conversations with Maud secret. Like Maud and Nicole, I have known what it is to conform to the expectations of a constrictive environment until I finally found the courage to break free and use my voice. That is why I wrote Maud and Me: to celebrate the journey of the artist in becoming herself.

Marianne Jones was born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where she lives with her husband Reg. Her work has appeared in Room, the Wascana Review, Canadian Living and Reader's Digest. Her memoir, The Girl Who Wouldn't Die, won the 2015 Word Alive Press publishing contest. Much of her writing celebrates the unique beauty of Northwestern Ontario. Maud and Me is her first novel. Marianne is currently at work on a mystery set in Thunder Bay.

why I wrote this book:
time squared

by Lesley Krueger

I usually sit on ideas for a long time. In the case of Time Squared, I began thinking about writing a time travel novel more than a decade ago. What would it do to a person to be moved around in time, finding themselves living in different eras? I’m no longer sure where the idea came from, but when it first occurred to me, I scribbled it down in my journal. Afterward, the thought kept nagging, and I started writing more notes in succeeding journals, so many that I eventually opened a notebook dedicated to the idea. This was a thin Muji notebook with a peach-coloured spine. Now and again, I would write down thoughts about what a time travel novel could be.

Soon I found myself thinking about specific characters. My protagonist could be Eleanor, an old name that was popular in many eras. Maybe Eleanor would fall in love with a soldier named Robert or Robin or Rob before he went off to war. Since there are always wars, Robert could be marching off to the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century, or the Boer War at the turn of the 20th.

Robin could also be coming home on leave from the First or Second World War, or telegraphing Eleanor from Korea or Vietnam. Gradually I created a family and friends around my main character. Eleanor could be the ward of her rich Aunt Clara, who would own estates in England, or maybe a boutique in Greenwich Village during the 1960s. Her best friend could be Catherine or Kitty or Kate, and since there are always artists as well as soldiers, Catherine could paint. Everyone in Eleanor’s world would believe they’d always lived in the time they woke up to in the morning. Life would seem perfectly normal to them. But Eleanor would have weird dreams and intrusive memories of other lives, and begin to suspect that something was wrong, eventually understanding that she was skipping around in time. Then, of course, she’d begin to ask why.

At this stage, I didn’t know myself how that could happen, or even what the novel would be about. Theme usually comes to me last, sometimes after I write my opening chapters. What on earth was this novel about? Gradually I realized that since Eleanor was a woman travelling through time, it would be tied up in the roles women played in different eras. Maybe that’s what had first subconsciously attracted me to the idea, and maybe that was my theme. I could explore what society expected women to be and do in 1811 and 1914 and 2010; what leeway they—we—were allowed and are allowed; what keeps us in approved roles, in societal jails, and how to break out.

There remained the question of how Eleanor could travel through time. The pages of my notebook had been filling up not only with ideas about characters, but with extracts from the reading I was doing about different eras and wars. Now I began to make notes about time travel, trying to understand various quantum-related theories, my eyes crossing, until I came up with a hypothesis. Not my hypothesis, but one from philosopher Nicholas Bostrum. After reading some Bostrum, I was ready to write a novel that would explore women’s roles, war, art, technology. All this, and it would be a love story, too.

Yet I’m conscious that in saying this, I’m really explaining how I wrote the novel, not why.

In fact, I jot down a lot of ideas for possible novels. Sometimes these jottings are so cryptic that when I re-read them, I have no idea what I was thinking about. Other ideas I can circle around for ages before deciding that I have nothing to say about them, or that I’ve simply lost interest. So what was it about Time Squared that made me want to spend two years writing it?

Surely figuring out your motives is one of the hardest things on earth. At the end of the day, I have no idea why I give a toonie to one particular homeless person and not another. Why do I mouth off at one rough player in my beer league hockey game and skate away from another?

And why has the pandemic made me so weirdly compulsive about both writing and organizing my old writing files when some other writers tell me they’ve procrastinated through repeated lockdowns, spent weeks staring at the floor, found that they can concentrate on their writing for no more than four hours at a time? Superstitiously, I ask myself: Do I sense that I’m not going to make it through this, that I’d better finish as much writing as I can while leaving my papers in good shape for my family?

I don’t think it’s that. I think I wrote Time Squared because I’m old enough now that I can look back on different eras in my life. I’ve always written fiction, and always struggled to find time to write it. When I was in my 20s, I earned my living as a journalist while writing fiction on the weekends. Later I worked as a creative writing teacher, and even later as a screenwriter and script editor and film teacher. I’ve lived in Mexico, Brazil, the U.S. and the U.K; in Vancouver and Toronto.

Is there a consistent me in all of this? What about other people? Is there some essential core to my friends—to all of us—that stays consistent as we change jobs, move countries, live through succeeding decades? Or do we morph into different people as our circumstances change?

I think of novels as questions, and I think the urge to explore these particular questions is what made me want to write Time Squared. Not that I think I’ve come up with any answers, since I don’t think it’s a novel’s job to provide answers.

But if anyone has any, please let me know.

Lesley Krueger is an award-winning Canadian novelist and filmmaker. Her latest novel, Time Squared, jumps centuries as a reluctant time traveller fights to discover where she belongs. Published in the fall of 2021, Time Squared is available from ECW Press in Canada and the U.S. as a paperback, e-book and audiobook. Both the paperback and e-book can be ordered worldwide. Her previous novel, Mad Richard was published 2017. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls it “a remarkable piece of historical fiction” and “a terrific read.” The Globe & Mail says it is “alive with wit and rebellion.”

why i wrote this book:
The Elk Whistle Warrior Society

by Rick Revelle

I wrote my forthcoming novel The Elk Whistle Warrior Society because I feel there is a need to shed light on what is happening to the Indigenous women of Turtle Island. My novel details how the Indigenous women of Turtle Island have taken matters in their own hands over the past 650 years. They are out to protect their grandmothers, aunties, sisters, nieces, daughters and children from the people who human traffic them, murder them and abuse them. The Society does it in their own way.

Revengeful, thorough and without remorse towards the abusers of their people, The Elk Whistle Warrior Society is out to do what the police and government cannot and will not do. Hunt down people who prey on them and their families. This book is about how Indigenous women have returned to the way of their female ancestors; strong in mind, body and spirit. Dedicated to their family, above all else.

Too many of Turtle Island’s women and children are buried in unmark graves, lost to the mists of times. The Elk Whistle Warrior Society rights those wrongs, defends the weak, rescues the abused. They are a secret society ran by women who are identified by two blue feathers tattooed on their right shoulders. They hand pick the men who travel with them.

These men have the same tattoos on their left calf. Each and every warrior has either a PhD or Masters from a university. They all have Martial Art black belts. They do not use guns, only the weapons of their ancestors; spears, bow and arrows, tomahawks and knives. Everyone has an elk whistle around their neck. When they have completed a mission, a cleanup crew arrives. Each of member of this secret collective have PhD’s in chemistry, biology and forensic science. Plus, they also have the weapons and Martial Arts skills of all the other warriors of the Society. If you like reading about tough, smart and goal-oriented Native women characters who can be looked up to by their readers because they are educated, strong and passionate about their people, then this is the book for you. Super heroes of the Indigenous population on Turtle Island. Just look for the blue tattoos and stay out of their way if they are after you. The last people who you want knocking on your door are The Elk Whistle Warrior Society women. They aren't here to sell you Girl Guide cookies.

Rick Revelle was born in Smiths Falls, Ontario, and raised in the Odessa and Wilton areas. He is a member of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. He lives in Napanee, Ontario.


by Genevieve A. Chornenki

I was a nursing mother, precariously self employed as a mediator, when a detached retina forced me home, immobile for two weeks. No lifting—pen, paper, baby. My husband, who’d taken leave from his own job, now had two infants on his hands. Our abruptly weaned son slept in a wicker basket in the bedroom. Around 9:30 each evening, my husband fed him by bottle. I watched with longing.For the first two weeks after surgery, my only contact with the baby was his brief rests beside me on the bed.

I’d been having trouble with my eyesight before and after giving birth. Thick black lines. Sprays of light. Cut-off sides. Blurry sight. The words sound charming and poetic, and at first an optometrist interpreted them as something benign, an optical migraine.

“That’s curious,” I had thought. “I don’t get migraines.” But I figured a licensed professional knew best. When an eye doctor finally examined my eye, he said straight up, “You have an ophthalmic emergency. Will it be St. Michaels or Sunnybrook?”A four-hour operation followed; scalpels, probes, lasers, and stitches did unspeakable things to my left eye. In less than two years, more surgery followed.

Until my first eye operation, I was profoundly ignorant about my eyesight. It never occurred to me that blurry vision could have something to do with the inside of my eyeball. Nor had I known that one-third of my retina—the light sensitive tissue lining the eye—had been peeling away for weeks.

Up to that point—and despite being myopic since my teens and having had regular eye exams—I thought that every eye problem could be remedied by putting something in front of the eye, preferably a pair of contact lenses. Sure, my eyes were about seeing the world. I’d always appreciated that. As a child when I wasn’t doing homework or household chores, I read—Nancy Drew mysteries, Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden.

As a teenager, I studied clouds outdoors when classes finished, cumulus being my favourites. And, as a university student, it pained me to watch trees bud from the library windows while I studied for exams inside. But, to be honest, for the longest time I was more concerned about being seen than I was about seeing.

I hated wearing eyeglasses. Do these ones make my face look fat? If a fire alarm sounded in the night, I would put in my contact lenses first, then head to the lobby. Vanity required it. Never mind the discomfort. “You must have eyes like ball bearings,” a contact lens fitter once told me.

All of this vanity ended in my early forties when seeing took precedence over being seen.The detached retina. Then a cataract. Then an after-cataract. Each required surgical intervention, two under general anaesthetic, and each was accompanied by visual impairment: seeing stairs where there were none or a flat surfaces where there were stairs. Being unable to read comfortably or drive confidently. Glare. Walking into a glass door while talking to colleagues at a conference.

With time, contact lenses could no longer accommodate the myriad adjustments that my eyes required. I submitted myself to eyeglasses. Now, when a photographer asks, “Do you really need those?” my answer is “Absolutely.” I have also built deliberate boundaries around my leisure time, resolving to regularly rest my eyes from any form of paid work, whatever the cost. I decided that when on vacation I would check no form of electronic communication and on Sundays I would refrain from all devices. It’s been challenging, but I’ve kept my resolve.

Circumstances taught me that eyesight is fragile, precious, wondrous, and my recent book, Don’t Lose Sight: Vanity, incompetence, and my ill-fated left eye, is a meditation on our sense of sight. But even as I wrote my memoir, I recognized how little I really understood about eyesight. Indeed, it was only when I began to research, really research, that I appreciated the wonder of it. How exactly do our eyes convert light energy into nerve impulses? Where do those impulses go? And how do they get put back together again to give us an internal image of “what’s out there?”For months, I earnestly believed that I could master the neuroscience of sight and explain it to others in plain, linear language. More vanity.

It took two decades for me to complete Don’t Lose Sight. One reason for the delay was the legal wrangling I got caught up in. I wanted to see a report that was commissioned about my eyes when I made a formal complaint against the optometrist who diagnosed my detached retina as a migraine.

When I finally succeeded in getting the report, the complaint proceedings were over and I had no influence over the outcome. So, I hardly scanned the document before stuffing it in a file folder. Only by piecing things together long after the fact was I able to understand how poorly I had been served and to realize how lucky I had ultimately become.

Don’t Lose Sight was published at a time when all of us are using our eyes more intensely and persistently than ever before. Never mind cell phones, those recent appendages that draw our eyes down and misalign our necks. The pandemic drew people of all ages and stages to videoconferencing for so many reasons: academics, commerce, fitness, friends, worship, and more. And what did we see? Ourselves. Our own flawed faces: skin like crepe, drooping eyelids, misaligned noses, jowls, pads of fat. So concerning are these sights to so many that, as reported in The Economist in April of 2021, the demand for elective plastic surgery increased around the world.


The protagonist in Semezdin Mehmedinović’s novel My Heart looks out of a car window—desert as far as the eye can see, not a single human shadow—and asks, “Why fill our lives with such effort and torment, when we know that we will be here only once, and when we have such a brief and unrepeatable time in this indescribably beautiful world?”

Genevieve Chornenki is a disputeresolution consultant and emerging writerbased in Toronto, Canada. Genevieve holds a Master of Lawsin Alternative Dispute Resolution fromOsgoode Hall Law School, a Certificate in Creative Writing from the University ofToronto, and a Certificate in Publishing from Ryerson University. Her works include Bypass Court: A Dispute Resolution Handbook and When Families Start Talking, a CBC Ideas radio documentary. Don't Lose Sight is her latest book.