Contributor Spotlight: Sheldon Birnie

In Bauer Selects, a group of rec hockey players changing post-game are regaled with a tale of a local player who fell into the possession of a strange, worn pair of skates, and couldn’t seem to stay off the ice once he laced ’em up…

Tell us a little bit about what inspired “Bauer Selects“.

There’s just something to old equipment like that which speaks to me. You often hear that a player is “playing like a man (or woman) possessed” in sports. I wondered, could a pair of skates influence the way a player plays, for good or ill? I own a pair of Bauer Selects, which I found used for $40 somewhere and which I mostly use for skating on outdoor ice. When I busted the Tuik (the plastic piece which holds the blade in place) one day when it was -25 or so, I took them in to get fixed. The guy at the sports shop couldn’t believe I still used such relics, but luckily they managed to dig up a replacement part and fix them up and I still use them today.

What do you hope readers get from reading “Bauer Selects“? 

I like reading sports stories that are about more than sports, and I’d hope this piece will resonate with readers in that way. I also like stories where the characters maybe aren’t being entirely honest with themselves (or the readers), attributing failures of their own to some supernatural power or event beyond their control rather than giving themselves a long look in the mirror. I think this story could be read either way, as a true haunting or as a failure of a group of pals to help a buddy out when he needed it most. It’s also an homage to the joys of beer league hockey and the swapping of tales over a couple pops after a good hard skate.

How has your time in the Prairies influenced your writing?  

I’ve spent most of my life on the Prairies, either in Manitoba or in northeastern British Columbia, where the northern prairies roll into the foothills of the Rockies, so it’s just about the only place that I know well enough to feel comfortable writing honestly about. When I look up at the night sky from any point on the prairies, on a dark night, I get the impression that not only are there limitless worlds above, but a vast physical space all around that is rich in history and potential. There are more shadows about than anything else on those nights, too. I also take a lot of inspiration from prairie writers and poets, from Margaret Laurence and Robert Kroetsch to John K. Samson and Miriam Toews, not to mention all the other folks who contributed to both Alternate Plains and Parallel Prairies. It’s heartening to see such quality writing come from a part of the world that is often overlooked, if it’s even looked at at all.

What do you feel anthologies and short stories accomplish that novellas and novels don’t? 

I love short stories. I love reading them and writing them, and have since I was a young child, first getting into Ray Bradbury and Stephen King and trying to figure out how it was they managed to pack so much magic into so few pages. There’s an immediacy to the form that I enjoy, that quick one-two punch that is much more difficult to attain or sustain over a longer work like a novel or even a novella. Today, with so many great online indie journals, there are so many exciting platforms for writers to find homes for short stories, I feel like I’m constantly discovering a new writer to become fascinated with, or some new story that keeps the candle burning and inspires me to either try something new or different, or reaffirms that whatever weird path I was following in my own writing might indeed be of interest to others.

What other work would you like the readers to know about?

I recently had a couple stories that I’m real happy with see the light of day by way of online journals I love. The Chasm appeared in Bear Creek Gazette Vol. 5, and Ogopogo Lives came out with X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine a couple months back. If you dig Bauer Selects, maybe you’ll dig those, as well?

What are you working on now? What can readers look forward to next? 

I have another cryptic Prairie tale coming out in an anthology of cryptid writing sometime next year that I’m fired up about. The story’s called Soo-Soo Go Bye Bye and the collection, which will be published by Malarkey Books out of the States, is titled It Came From The Swamps. It’s edited by Joey R. Poole, whose strange southern stories I really love. I’m always chipping away at short stories, if I can find the time. And I’ve got a hockey novel that I’ve been working on for what feels like forever that I’m finally whipping into game shape, so hopefully that will make the big show and be available, someway, somehow, someday sooner than later.

Sheldon Birnie is a writer, reporter, and beer league hockey player who lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba with his wife Clara and their two young children.

Alternate Plains: Stories of Prairie Speculative Fiction is available wherever books are sold like Amazon, Chapters Indigo, through our publisher Great Plains Publications, and local booksellers like ours, McNally Robinson Booksellers.

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