Tag Archives: fantasy

On Spec

I think I first found On Spec in The Writer’s Market. I can’t quite remember. All I know is that I’ve been reading them for years. They publish sci-fi and fantasy and they’re Canadian! Jen Laface was kind enough to answer a few questions about this out of-this-world publication.

On Spec is celebrating it’s 25th year in business. What is the secret to your success?

Many things! One is perseverance. On Spec is primarily grant-funded, but due to shrinking contributions from all levels of government, we’re challenged with finding new ways for funding. By and large, we are a “critical” success, which means our authors and stories often win acclaim. But the reality of Canadian publishing is that our population isn’t necessarily large enough to sustain a special interest title like On Spec. Grants are necessary to give us a more level playing field with similar publications that have access to a larger readership. This, on the other hand, could change once we are more visible on the digital marketplace. On Spec’s secret weapon—ok, well Managing Editor—is Diane Walton. She’s been with On Spec since the start, and at the helm of On Spec for several years, since Jena Snyder left us to pursue her own writing career. Diane and the other editors have a passion and drive to see a Canadian science fiction and fantasy magazine thrive.

Commitment is an important part–the editors donate their time to On Spec without compensation. That’s a labour of love, from reading and selecting stories to administrative tasks, promotions and fundraising. The editors frequently attend out of town conventions and conferences at their own expense, and spend most of their time doing On Spec work—both selling and promoting. The team is committed to showcasing talent, established and emerging especially in Canada, and delivering the best stories to our subscribers.

Many literary magazines have gone from print to digital. Will On Spec be next? If not, why not?

Most likely yes. Due to the costs of printing and mailing, plus fulfilling membership obligations with print copies, it does get costly. We’ve observed magazines that have started only digitally, and one of the benefits is not incurring print and mailing costs.

At this point, we’re in the midst of solidifying our process for digital issues, so there won’t be any changes quite yet, probably not in the next half year. But we do recognize that making our magazine available in digital format will open us to a much wider international audience in the English-speaking world, and that can’t be a bad thing. For those readers who still enjoy the feel of a magazine, we can also investigate limited print runs or print on demand options.

Do you have a sense of your readership? Are On Spec fans readers or writers?

We’ve only done a little research on our subscribers. We think 75% is fans, 25% writers. For web searches, it’s usually in reverse—writers are searching for markets and from our experience, more likely to seek out On Spec.

Plus there’s people who are a little of both! 🙂

Can you talk a bit about the short story medium in general? What about it appeals to you?

Short fiction has a long and noble tradition in publishing, and is far more than merely a “gateway” for writers who are working on their novels. It is an art form in itself, and far more challenging in many ways. In literature of the fantastic, it is also a good place for writers to test new concepts and characters. And most readers can tell you of one or two particular short stories that continue to resonate with them, even years later.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fantasy

Fan Expo – Toronto’s Comic-Con

Get ready to geek out!

This year among the distinguished guests, Fan-Expo played host to the cast of Walking Dead, Nathan Fillion, Carrie Fisher, and Stan Lee just to name a few.

Alas, I was too poor to pay for autograph tickets so I took candid shots (despite the fierce looking staffer holding a no candids sign)

I went on the Sunday which meant less people… sort of…

48 - Crowd Shot

And again, only had enough money for admission, but if I had an extra $25 this is where I would have spent it.

48 - Tee

Either that or Cake Cove’s chocolate that was molded to look like Han Solo frozen in carbonite (see photo gallery 4/5/6)

…Alright, not entirely true. I had $5 worth of change which I gave to Ghostbusters Ontario (you heard me) to suit up, take some photos, and all the money went to charity. (Best $5 I’ve ever spent)

Ghostbusters cropped

It occurs to me that this is the first picture of myself that I’ve posted on this blog. It’s perfect.

For some reason they added a sports section this year which I felt was really odd…

It was also challenging to navigate the Metro Convention Centre as 1) The north and south buildings are very far apart and 2) While schedules were available online, there was nothing to indicate which building each room was in. (Fail)

If you missed Fan-Expo and are looking for the Comic-Con experience, I highly recommend the documentary A Fan’s Hope.

If you’re still looking to geek out, check out The Nerdist for awesome pod-casts.

Next up – screw January! September is my New Year. Find out why next post.

1 Comment

Filed under Events

Pick Up Artist #2: Titles

What does it take for a reader to pick up your book? We’ve talked about covers (which, sadly, you don’t have much say over) but what about your title? What makes a good one?

Gardens of the Moon – You rarely see the word “gardens” in a fantasy title and the “of” not “on” the moon is also very interesting. I’d pick up this book.

Does it make you ask a question?
The Darkness That Comes Before – Before what? What kind of darkness? Are we talking about evil? Just how bad are the badies? I want to know.

The Ruins of Ambrai – A specific place with a specific name. It suggests that another world does exist and that I should look into it.

So what makes for a bad title?

Personally, any fantasy that has the words blood, sword or empire in the title loses my interest. (What fantasy novel doesn’t have an empire with swords that spill blood?) Titles are hard. But if you can’t entice me with your title, how are you going to entice me with your writing?

Be original. Ask a question. Get specific.

I’ll be taking a break from the Pick Up Artist series to blog about Toronto’s Fan Expo and September as the New Year. Look for Pick Up Arist #3: Back of Book Descriptions shortly after.

1 Comment

Filed under Writing

Fantastic Fantasy Part 3: Character Descriptions

As a reader I don’t always care what colour the protagonists’ eyes are or how tall or short they may be. What I care about is whether or not he’s a brute or a sensitive man. Whether he is a willing hero or was thrust into the role. If you can show this through his physicality, great. If you can juxtapose his personality with how they look, even better. (Perhaps your protagonist is tall and muscular but so cowardly he will never succeed as a soldier) What you want to avoid is a running list of what they look like. This can be very boring.

In Raymond E. Feists’ Magician: Apprentice, he subtly slips in two small descriptors.

Pug danced along the edge of the rocks, his feet finding scant purchase as he made his way among the tide pools. His dark eyes darted about as he peered into teach pool under the cliff face, seeking the spiny creatures driven into the shallows by the recently passed storm. His boyish muscles bunched under his light shirt as he shifted the sack of sandcrawlers, rockclaws, and crabs plucked from this water garden.

We know his eyes are dark. We know he’s young. That’s it, and it’s enough.

The use of metaphors and similes is not a bad way to spice up your description. In Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass he describes Lord Asriel in the following way,

Lord Asriel was a tall man with powerful shoulders, a fierce dark face, and eyes that seemed to flash and glitter with savage laughter. It was a face to be dominated by, or to fight: never a face to patronize or pity. All of his movements were large and perfectly balanced, like those of a wild animal, and when he appeared in a room like this, he seemed a wild animal held in a cage too small for it.

The great thing about this character description is it evokes emotion in the reader. We’re intrigued by this character and maybe even a little scared.

Before describing your characters ask yourself, does it enhance the readers experience to know what they look like? Are there physical features important to their character? Why? Can you evoke emotion with the description?

Don’t forget, you can always have your reader decide what they look like by not describing them at all. It’s your choice.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fantasy, Writing

Fantastic Fantasy Part 2: Clever Exposition

Back in the day, before reality tv shows, soap operas would try to lure new viewers by constantly recapping what had happened. Dialogue between characters consisted of listing both their relationship and what happened in previous episodes. (Sample dialogue: “You are my brother and if you think I’m going to sit back while you sleep with my wife days after our father’s funeral, you’ve got enough think coming!“) If you don’t want your novel sounding like an episode of Young and the Restless, you need to understand how to write exposition.

Whether you are describing your world, the rules of magic, or your character’s background, delivering exposition is a tricky task. Too much and you risk boring your reader. Not enough and they might not understand what’s going on. Here are some examples for how to deliver what your reader needs to know.

Through dialogue
Have your protagonist talk to a character who doesn’t know what’s going on. By delivering information to that character, they are also delivering it to the reader. (Example, Hagrid telling Harry Potter about Voldermort, what happened to his parents and why he’s special) Although not my favourite method, it is better than straight narrative.

Through mystery
Let the reader piece together the necessary information rather than spoon feeding it to them. If your protagonist is a retired solider, show him looking at his worn uniform or a rusty sword. Is your character a powerful wizard who can’t control their powers? Have them burn spell books or refuse to assist someone in need.

Through emotion
How does your protagonist’s past affect their present? Has their heart been broken which makes them leery of relationships? Have your character tell us how s/he is feeling and why. Your reader is less likely to skip passages if your protagonist is passionate about what they are revealing.

Of course you should go through your favourite books to see what methods those authors have used, but it doesn’t hurt to go through books you’ve put down to see how they’ve failed.

However you chose to approach exposition, make sure your reader is going to keep turning the pages. Do that, and you’re golden.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fantasy, Writing

Fantastic Fantasy Part I: Great Beginnings

Friends often recommend books to me with the caveat, “It takes a while to get into it, but it’s worth it.” I’m not against a challenging read, but why would an author make me wait fifty pages to get me interested in what they have to say? If it’s a great book it should have a great beginning.

The Hook

There are three ways you can start your book that will have your reader continue reading. The first is using a hook. Take the first chapter in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It’s titled The Boy Who Lived. Before we even get into the text we’re asking ourselves ‘Oh my God, what happened?’ Then there’s the opening paragraph,

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

Strange? Mysterious? What things are these? By enticing your reader with questions you have a better chance that they will continue reading.


Let us know what the humongoloid problem is and why we should care about it. Audrey Niffenegger does a great job with this as The Time Traveler’s Wife begins,

CLARE: It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays.

Shortly after we learn that Harry cannot control his time traveling abilities and is always disappearing against his will. So we have Clare who loves Henry and Henry who loves Clare but it always vanishing into different times. Can they save their marriage? You’ll have to keep reading to find out.


Tension is an especially good tool for keep your reader turning from the first page to the second and third. Philip Pullman opens his novel The Golden Compass with,

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.

I’m not going to lie. The rest of the chapter falls a bit short. (It presents a lot of exposition which we will talk about in a later post). But it’s an effective first sentence. Lyra is sneaking. She could get caught. What would be the consequences? Where is she going and what the heck is a daemon?!

Whether you use first person or third person, whether you start with narrative or dialogue, make the reader want to keep reading. That’s your beginning. That’s your way in.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fantasy, Writing

On Genre

As a reader I try not to limit myself (though I do tend to stay away from mystery and horror since I don’t like suspense or being scared). As a writer, I’m currently working on a fantasy fiction novel. Will I continue in that genre once it’s complete? I’m not sure. There are a lot of things I love about fantasy… and a few things I really don’t.

Naturally I love magic. I love the different rules. I love magic’s power and its limitations.

I love battle scenes. I love the clash of steel on steel and spell on spell.

I love (most) magical creatures. Good and evil.

I don’t love the quest for an all powerful magical object that must be obtained to save or destroy the world. There are too many of these and there is only one Lord of the Rings.

I don’t dig dragons. I don’t know what it is. Maybe they remind me of dinosaurs? (I was never big into them, either) Whatever it is, I’m just not interested.

I’m not a fan of most fantasy book covers. Many of them are either cheesy or sexist. Cover art should represent the contents of the book. It should be cool, classy, and not make me want to vomit.

My biggest beef however, is less about the genre and more about how others perceive it. For example, when I was in grade twelve I needed an elective and couldn’t decide what to take. I ended up straying from my advanced courses to enroll in a general English class. It’s focus? Sci-fi and fantasy. The novels and short stories we read were outstanding. This begs the question, why was the class limited to general students?

I feel as though sci-fi and fantasy are still limited to the general classroom. When it comes to the media, “literary” fiction will receive coverage while “genre” fiction does not. Many book and literary festivals limit or exclude sci-fi/fantasy. There are even separate book awards. So I ask you, isn’t a good story, a good story no matter what the genre?

Leave a comment

Filed under Fantasy, Writing

Four Major Writing Obstacles And How To Overcome Them: #1 Fear

The first in a four part series.

As part of my first year university acting class, I performed an excerpt from Anton Chekov’s The Three Sisters. I no longer remember the plot, but I do remember all three sisters wanting to go to Moscow. They talked about it (a lot) but they never went.

Being not even 20, I was baffled by the sisters’ lack of action. “Why don’t they just go to Moscow?!” 14 years later, I understand. What if Moscow didn’t work out? What if it made them miserable? If they stayed, at least they would have the beauty of the dream.

Writing is terrifying. But what exactly are we afraid of?

Never Finishing

You have an idea. A great idea. One that makes you really excited to get started. There’s just one problem. This isn’t an idea for a poem, a short story, or even a play. It’s a novel. With an average word count of 100,000 starting a novel is enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed. So what do you do?

The truth, is if you wrote 274 words a day, in one year you would have a draft. Even if you skipped days here and there, you could still have yourself a beginning, middle and an end in less than two. Think of finishing your novel as a goal you can accomplish. Only then can you sit down and get started.

An Awful Book

But what if it’s bad? I’m going to level with you. It will be. That’s the point. If you really want to write a novel, you need to give yourself permission to write badly. Cry through the draft if you have to, just get something down. No book has ever been published without ridiculous amounts of rewrites and you can’t rewrite what doesn’t exist.


Working on a novel is challenging enough, but tackling sci-fi or fantasy means creating an entire world and the rules magic or technology. Where to begin?! Do not despair, rejoice! While other writers are researching Maine or what people wore in the eighteenth century, you get to create an entire world from scratch. Don’t focus on all you have yet to create. Celebrate the little victories – the name of your world, how the people look. These genres are daunting, but they’re also a lot of fun. Enjoy it.


It will happen. A lot. If rejection comes with some constructive criticism, take it. If it doesn’t, move on. Resubmit. Again and again. Rewrite again and again. The only way you are guaranteed never to be published is if you never submit.

Admitting You’re a Writer

Even published writers have a hard time admitting what they do for a living. When asked about her new year’s writing resolution, Emily Schultz, author of The Blondes, said “To actually admit that I’m a writer. Until now I’ve always been afraid of making people with normal jobs feel uncomfortable when I talk about being a writer… So in 2013 I’m just going to say it: I’m a novelist. I’m 38 years old, I’m committed now, there’s no going back, for better or worse I’m going to die a writer.”

It doesn’t matter if you haven’t published. Get comfortable saying you’re a writer now. Have your short, two sentence description or elevator pitch ready for the following conversation:

SOME GUY What do you do?

YOU I am currently working at (insert day job here) while I work on my novel.

SOME GUY Oh? What’s it about?

YOU (Insert elevator pitch here)

Now here’s the tricky part. Most of the time SOME GUY’s response to the description of your novel will be,

SOME GUY You know what you should do…

As you listen to SOME GUY tell you his ideas, just take a slow, deep breath (try to do this subtly) People have good intentions. They’re excited that you’re a writer. You should be, too. Remember, the purpose of publication is to have readers buy your book. That means you will have to tell people about it.

Most things worth doing are scary – traveling to a foreign country, telling something you love them. If you’re afraid it means you’re on to something.

Don’t dream of Moscow. Pack your bags and go.


Filed under Writing