If not us…?

This first appeared as a FaceBook post. Bear with me. It’s important.

My “settler/colonizer” roots go deep in this country. Some of my family has been here since the late 17th century, part of those first boatloads of land-tied serfs brought to “New France”.

I need to say that up front: I am a product of colonization. It’s not something I need to be ashamed of (how could I be? I had no say in the matter) but neither is it something I can point to with “pride”. It is just a fact.

Some of my forebears were directly involved in the subjugation and genocide of the First Nations and Metis people they encountered.

Like my sentiments above, this is not up for discussion: it simply is another fact. It is not something I need to feel “guilty” about, but here there is a burden: I am responsible for this, in the sense that I have a duty to make reparations, and to go forward doing better than those who came before me.

That’s not onerous. That’s not some kind of cross to bear. It, too, is simply a fact, and “duty” should not be a dirty word. If I am a decent human, I take this on, voluntarily and without resentment, because it is not born of guilt.

But here’s the real internal nut that all of us with similar pasts must confront and crack open:

The “revelations” about what had been done/was continuing throughout my lifetime/is happening now – the residential schools, the indifference/blatant racism of law enforcement, the pretense of “listening” to First Nations voices while blithely ignoring the content of their words and actions to pursue some hazily defined “economic good” — these things should not be news to anyone.

Because we did know.

We did.

Our parents knew.

In the neighbourhood that I grew up in, we were strongly discouraged from playing the cowboys part of “Cowboys and Indians” (we did play the “Indians” part. None of us wanted to be cowboys) — because our parents knew.

And we, even as children, understood it instinctively. We could see even through the myths from Hollywood, how a way of life was being destroyed, and how the myth was being constructed. We might not have had the words to describe this…but we knew it for what it was.

I cannot be held guilty of atrocities that occurred under governments that adults elected while I was still below the age of consent.

But all of us must face these facts: we, as a group, chose our own self-interest over basic humanity towards others, we perpetuated (continue to perpetuate) these acts and attitudes, and it is our duty to end this.

If not us, then who?

If not now, then when?
Morgan Smith acknowledges that she lives on land belonging to
Métis/Tsuu T’ina Plains Cree
Treaty 6, 1876



Epicly Not Epic

Or “Why my books are the way they are”


Recently, someone took me to task, telling me that my fantasy novels aren’t “really” epic fantasy.

This is because they are written as stand-alone stories, each dealing with a small piece of this world I created, and told from a very limited, first person singular point of view. The stories don’t involve a “Chosen One” (or perhaps they do…ymmv) and each one seems to resolve a less-than-world-threatening conundrum.

But wait! There’s more here than meets the eye.

The fact is, what I am doing is breaking the “epic” canon in a tiny, tiny way.

In most epic fantasy, the world is set out as an incontrovertible and static unity. Things are the way they are, and in a sense, there’s only one voice. There is, ultimately, only one way of perceiving the facts of the case. The religion, the values, the politics are uniform, and everyone on the “good side” adheres to those views – and the opposite side (the “bad guys”) stand against that view and that’s all there is.

There’s only one interpretation of the events. There’s only one way of seeing those events. While some characters might speak as if they don’t follow those views, the writer forces the reader into seeing that central vision as the only one that is “true”.

But that’s not how people really are, are they? Each one of us sees and feels and interprets the events based on everything in our lives that has gone before. How we were raised, every individual experience, what our lives consisted of before the proverbial trash hits the hurricane: those are the things that create each unique interpretation of what is happening, and how the world works.

And so my aim is to show that the prior living of life, not to mention the time and circumstances in which one grows up, colours one’s interpretation of events. My other aim is to show how events connect and pile up on each other, and can conspire to become a more earth-shattering, world-changing watershed moment that everything and everyone else is a part of.

So Caoimhe (in “Casting in Stone”) sees both the past and her own present very differently than Keridwen does. Even her interpretation of Dungarrow’s history is different from Keridwen’s: Caoimhe’s cynicism and her internal pain make her suspicious of what other people see as “goodness”, and her emotional armour against the world is the only thing she really relies on.

Keridwen, (the protagonist in “A Spell in the Country”) having grown up in security and love, sees the world as innately fair and just, and she has to come to terms with the fact that it may not be. She has more confidence in both herself and the world.

Both of them and their recollection of events they were part of are different views of a larger picture – a picture they can only see and interpret a portion of, and only in the way their character interacts and reflects their personal worldview.

Believe me: these “small stories” are part of a much greater whole, and it is *epic*: there are larger forces at work in this universe. This world is not static – what seems “good” in Caoimhe’s era might not hold true a generation or three later.

Plus stories do not end just because the time and place and viewpoints alter. Nothing is ever “finished”. All life is, at best, an ongoing endeavor, and the battle for equilibrium is always more of a “keeping the evil at bay for a little while” than a “we conquer ALL” proposition.

Real life is a work in progress. Thus it follows that all stories are, too.

And I really hope that readers will come along for the undeniably wild ride ahead.


Watch for “The Shades of Winter”   

A band of aging sea raiders set out on one last voyage of revenge, and get a whole lot more than they expected.   

– releasing March 30, 2018  on book vendor sites everywhere!





We’ve all made them

We’ve all broken them.

We’ve all announced to everyone that We. Are. Not. Doing. That. Again.

And all of that is okay. We (well, most of us) never lose that ten pounds. We go five days without cigarettes, and then cave in and start up again. We forget to do that evening meditation, we let the dirty dishes pile up, we buy a gym membership and then just stop going by Valentine’s Day. We eat the donuts.

Whatever it is, the will to turn over a new leaf on January 1st is defeated by January 21st.

It’s probably because we pick the wrong problems to work on. We want the absolutes, the narrowly defined, the clearly impossible directives. It almost guarantees failure, because one slip-up dooms you.

So maybe we should word these promises differently.

Maybe they should come with caveats. Escape hatches that allow us to regroup and try again.

Maybe we should focus on more achievable goals.


Like: I will try to eat healthier, at least twice a week.

Like: I will try to move around more.

Like: I will do more window shopping and less actual buying.

Things that we can remember to do intermittently, in the hope that by not beating ourselves up, we can create better habits. Habits that will help us get to better places.

For me?

I’m going to try to be kinder. I’m going to try to be less judgmental, less critical of my own shortcomings as well as other people’s faults.

I’m going to try to do more for other people. To once a week maybe be unselfish and more giving.


And if I forget one week, I’m going to try to just forgive myself and start again next week.


We all need to begin with ourselves, or we won’t ever make this world better.  Hating our own bodies, our own minds – that’s no place to start changing the world.

I can do this. You can do this.  It’s not some hard-and-fast stricture: it’s a resolution to just try to be better, and if we fail one day to be less than perfect, remembering that tomorrow will be a new opportunity to be our best selves.

We can. We must. I’m really going to work at this, this year, and to hell with all the vanity-driven, shame-filled, external-gratification promises, because even when they work, we aren’t really much better off than we were before.

But, yeah – I’m going to lose that last ten pounds. This year, for sure.


The Turning of the Year

It’s written into us.


Twenty thousand years of human history is laid down deep into our bones. We all feel it: that inchoate yearning for the darkness to end, for the return of light.

It doesn’t matter what name, or even if any name is attached. You can call it Navidad. You can call it Jul. You can call it Saturnalia. You can call it Tinsel-Time, for all the difference it would make.

What matters is that for millennia, humans in so many places around the world have, on these long nights, stopped, looked up at the sky, and hoped for a better tomorrow.

So last night I went along to Haven (an art therapy place here in Camrose) to join with a few others and meditate on the year that is passing, to recover, and to open my mind to the possibilities that the next circle around our star might bring.

Those of you who know me might be surprised.

I’m not much for the “woo”. I’m not much for labels or distinctions, or the idea that I can, as one small dust mote in a universe overflowing with dust motes, have the right (much less the ability) to overpower random chance.

But long ago, my dad warned me that Socrates was right. The unexamined life is not worth living. He taught me that at least once a year, it was a good idea to take stock, to look over what one had or had not accomplished, to note the ways in which one had done well, and the ways that one had fallen short, and to own all those things, so that one could move forward.

This is, for me, the real meaning of this season: a pause in the race we are all running. A moment to regroup, gather up your strength and your courage, and then go out and kick some ass.

Happy Solstice/Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/Winter’s Turning et cetera.

Be well, and happy, and strong.

Be kind. Be generous. Be the change we need.

Be human.

This world needs more of that.


How’s the weather out there?

beta readers

There’s a piece of advice that gets traded around on writers’ FB groups, attributed to various famous authors (but mostly Neil Gaiman) that “beta readers” can tell you what is wrong, but editors tell you why and then how to fix it.

And I always nod and not comment because my tried-and-true betas are really good about this: they’ll note that something seems off (and even say, in comments, that they have a PhD. In whatever, and can offer details if I need them, but leave the subsequent queries up to me). They know better than to tell me *how* to write it.

But, then again (keeping in mind that this was the first run at the scene, in the first draft of a novel):

One time, I threw out a general request for some people with some experience in something to read a short snippet and tell me if the terminology was all right, and if it “felt” realistic enough.

Most of the people that responded ignored the specifics of the question and jumped in with anecdotes that were not even slightly pertinent, given the parameters I asked for.

Most gave me advice about what the characters “should” do, ignoring the fact that – being a short excerpt with no surrounding context – I hadn’t asked for solutions to avoid the situation, but for whether or not, given some poor decision-making, the feel of the scene was accurate.

I pointed that out.

I got two more people chiming in with what the characters ought to have done to avoid the problems.

And then, several people gave me contradictory advice, anyway, which suggested to me that perhaps some of them knew a whole lot less than they thought they did.

But the real kicker was that one person gave me a long screed that was essentially an edit. They objected to a descriptive phrase, not because it was inaccurate, but because it seemed out of place to them. They ignored the really salient details, and gave advice about a different environment that I specifically said this wasn’t. They felt that the reader would need to know a lot of details that are, in fact, treated much earlier in the chapter, but were not germane to my writer’s dilemma or to the question I had posed.

It was also an edit that suggested that they would hate, hate, hate my books because frankly, in no reality whatsoever would I interrupt a scary, life-threatening action scene to deliver a lecture on meteorology and how storms form over the North Atlantic (which is not where my characters were, anyway.)

My instinct is this: that open queries are a mistake, and that people need to read those queries really carefully when they do come up.

Because now I have a whole lot less respect for some people’s reading comprehension skills, and that’s a little bit sad.



Our Second Selves



There is the me I think I know.

Brash, smart-mouthed, passionate, crusading – the public me is outgoing and tries hard to remember to be kind. That me believes in her own innate goodness, believes in your goodness, too, and will dance to crappy music in the mall, throw snowballs, march in protests, make dinner, and write novels.

I admire her. I like her.

But late at night, there is the other me. Deep inside, the other self is lying in wait.

Trembling, because this world is so frightening. This world is so hard.

This me is hesitant. This me fears the risks. This me wants nothing more than to curl up under the blankets and sleep to the end of time.

This me sees only her shortcomings: the gaps between – the ways she has not fulfilled her own promises. The lack of patience. The rush to judgement.

She sees your faults, too: she nurses the pain you cause, she carries the grudges like unsheathed swords. She will cut you, to prevent you from cutting her first.

You might not know her, but I do, and I have to live with her. Believe me, it is not easy.


We all have those second selves inside.

It’s important to remember that, when other people hurt you.

Because I strongly suspect that when they do, it isn’t their first, best selves that cause the pain. It is that second self, the one that is so scared, the one that lashes out, the one that is too quick to battle unseen foes, that’s the one who hurt you.

On the sideline, their first, best self is standing, openmouthed in shock and dismay, longing to take it all back.

Be good to both selves. Neither of them are perfect, but they try.