Contributor Spotlight: Premee Mohamed

In Those Who Float on Currents of Earth, the 12 years the human race had to mitigate the worst of climate change are almost up. As they explore a ravaged Alberta landscape, a group of youths must make a choice; work to fix the world they’ve got, or leave it behind in the company of an otherworldly stranger.

Tell us a little bit about what inspired “Those Who Float on Currents of Earth”.

As often happens, this story was inspired by an image — I had saved a picture of a painting by Lee Madgwick, a UK artist, of a weirdly sinister house and car seemingly in the middle of nowhere. (All his stuff is weirdly sinister, I love it.) I couldn’t help but wonder who might be in there, and then I kind of worked backwards from that: what was their purpose being in there? Who might confront them there? What might be waiting for them if they weren’t from this place? Could a hard decision be made there? Was enough information available to do so? I wanted the kids in the story to be tempted by this house because it was so different from where they were coming from, both physically (droughts, disease, unemployment, climate disasters) and psychologically (despair for the future passed on from their parents and other authority figures).

What do you hope readers get from reading “Those Who Float on Currents of Earth”?

I hope readers get a sense of both hope and curiosity about the future–I mean in the sense that we’re constantly told by corporations, lobbyists, elites, and even governments that we’re both personally responsible for solving the world’s accumulating disasters, and that there’s nothing we can do. Well, both things can’t be true. Pushing back against climate, political, gender, and racial violence starts small and it starts with community. Even two friends are enough to start with, if they’ve both made the choice to fight together. You never know what will accumulate around a small beginning.

How has your time in the Prairies influenced your writing?

The more I think about it, the more I think the answer is ‘Way more than I’m conscious of.’ Especially as a woman, a person of colour, and the child of immigrants, I find I’m often coming at things that are taken for granted here with kind of an ‘outsider’s perspective.’ At home I grew up in one culture, and as soon as I left the house every day I was immersed in another one, with a whole different set of values, rules, backgrounds, and ethics I was expected to share. I think I was very lucky, looking back, to have those two perspectives available to me. Especially as I worked in agriculture and ranching, and oil and gas (both in the field as an environmental consultant, and in the fancy headquarters in Calgary), and now in public service–there are so many things specific to the prairies that end up in my writing and my world view, and I scrutinize those things very closely out of love and out of a desire not to misrepresent them. Things like our connections to wildlife and hunting, the land itself, our relationships with Indigenous communities, attitudes towards climate change and fossil fuels, the urban/rural divide, perceptions and stereotypes of prairie residents. There’s a lot to unpack and fiction is an interesting place to unpack it. 

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

I’ve gotten so much more into anthologies (especially themed anthologies) over the past few years! A short story is such a difficult thing to do well; I don’t think people appreciate that. It is a whole different set of skills from a novella or novel. What a short story does really well is present a single main question or premise, and since it’s usually just one, it really highlights it–there’s a sense that all of the author’s skills and attention are focused on answering this question in a way that doesn’t let you look away from it, the way you can in a novel over hundreds of pages. And the sense of a short span in the characters’ lives, I love that. You almost feel privileged to be with them for such a brief period of time, while they are presented with these challenges and trying to overcome them, because you know it’ll be over soon and they truly don’t have much time to figure things out. And in anthologies, of course, I love to see the range of ideas and creativity from the different authors. It’s true that if you give 20 authors the same prompt, you will get 20 very different stories every time!

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

My next book out (September 28) is a post-post-apocalypse climate-fiction story called ‘The Annual Migration of Clouds’ from ECW Press, and that’s set in the prairies–in fact, at the University of Alberta campus here in Edmonton’s river valley! If readers like stories about ambiguous horror and intense friendships, I hope they’ll consider checking that one out. I’m also helping to judge the Dream Foundry contest for emerging writers (deadline is October 11!). Finally, I would like to nudge readers to read my debut novel, the multiply award-nominated ‘Beneath the Rising’ and its sequel ‘A Broken Darkness’ so they can get caught up before the third book in the trilogy comes out next year!

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

At the moment I’m working away on another anthology story for the ‘Life Beyond Us’ anthology–I’m very excited about that one, it’s an astrobiology focused hard science anthology and each story is being paired with an essay by a scientist working in the field (‘my’ scientist leads research in plant physiology and advanced life support at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center!), as well as ‘The Void Ascendant,’ the third book in the ‘Beneath the Rising’ trilogy which will be out in March 2022! 

Premee Mohamed is an Indo-Caribbean scientist and speculative fiction author based in Edmonton, Alberta. She is the author of novels ‘Beneath the Rising‘ (Crawford Award, Aurora Award, British Fantasy Award, and Locus Award finalist) and ‘A Broken Darkness,’ and novellas ‘These Lifeless Things,’ ‘And What Can We Offer You Tonight,’ and ‘The Annual Migration of Clouds.’ Her next novel, ‘The Void Ascendant,’ is the final book in the Beneath the Rising trilogy and is due out in March 2022. Her short fiction has appeared in many venues and she can be found on Twitter at @premeesaurus and on her website at www.premeemohamed.com.

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.

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.

Contributor Spotlight: Wayne Santos

In Yet Another Roadside Manifestation, Santos introduces us to an agent well-versed in the supernatural (and supranatural) working for a mysterious firm which has sent her back to her home province of Alberta, where a giant small-town landmark is giving off strange readings.

Tell us a little bit about what inspired “Yet Another Roadside Manifestation”. 

Yet Another Roadside Manifestation is the result of childhood curiosity. When I was a kid living in Edmonton, one of my relatives migrated from the Philippines to Alberta but settled down in Vegreville at first, starting and raising a family there for a few years before moving to Edmonton to join the rest of the Family Horde.

So there were occasional weekends when we’d drive out to visit them in Vegreville, and every once in a while, we would stop at that huge egg, and I would wander around it, trying to find signs that it was something more than just a big metal egg. My child self was convinced it had to have more significance than just a Huge Freaking Egg out in the middle of the prairies.

So when this anthology came up, it was kind of a no-brainer for me that if I needed to write about something deeply weird in the prairies, that would be the thing still scratching at the back of my mind. So I came up with my own ludicrous explanation for what it actually was.

What do you hope readers get from reading “Yet Another Roadside Manifestation”? 

I just hope they have fun with it. The story isn’t meant to be any poignant commentary on anything, although perhaps POC readers might recognize a bit of the second-generation immigrant emotional tenor that colors some of Reyna’s thought and ego processes.

However, the story itself is really just about what happens when someone is told to go investigate some big edifice in a rural space, and then stuff goes sideways with a helping of Mobius Loop.

How has your time in the Prairies influenced your writing?  

I think the thing that is abundantly clear about life in the prairies is that because of the greater sense of space and isolation, deeply weird is just as prevalent there; it just doesn’t get reported or commented on as much due to the lack of urban attitude and infrastructure.

Living in the prairies is a bit like living in space. Once you get past your town or city limits, there’s a whole lot of nothing. It really gives you a sense of how things are isolated, how there could be stuff out there, in the middle of all those rolling, treeless hills, and it’s easy to miss because the nothing overwhelms everything. I think that probably influences a lot of writers who grew up in this type of region, regardless of genre.

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

Short stories are always amazing places to experiment. Whether that’s with a style, a voice, or just an idea. Short stories give you a few thousand words to “try something on for size” and see how you like it. Quite a few short stories I’ve written in the past have ended up as “auditions” for ideas and characters that would go on to get full-blown books.

Yet Another Roadside Attraction is no different, really, in that after seeing who Reyna Macatangay is, I’m pretty sure I can do much more with this character and her world.

What other work would you like the readers to know about

For people that are looking for a science fiction cyberpunk fantasy with a lot of explosions, my novel The Chimera Code might be up your alley. If you ever wanted to see combat mages go up against military-grade cyborgs, it’s in there.

If you’re more in the mood for a Canadian urban fantasy immigrant comedy about goddesses with relationship problems, The Difficult Loves of Maria Makiling moves away from the prairies and messes up downtown Toronto and Marikina in the Philippines. It’s got demon horses and a crash course in Canadian cuisine.

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

At the time of this writing, I’ve completed another urban fantasy novel that’s with my agent and am now back in science fiction territory to switch things up. I’ve always loved giant robots and science fiction anime, so I think it’s finally time I took a crack at that genre and its beloved tropes for myself and see what shakes out.

Wayne Santos has been an ad copywriter, a TV scriptwriter, a magazine contributor, an editor, and a freelance writer for too many things on the Internet to count. He grew up in Alberta, lived in Singapore, and settled down in Ontario with his wife and an ongoing rotation of two household cats. He is a multi-disciplinary geek with a double major in science-fiction and fantasy, specializations in novels, comics, anime, TV, and film, and a minor in video games. Under no circumstances should he be approached to discuss 80s pop culture unless you are fully aware of the toll this will expend on your remaining lifespan.

Website: www.waynesantos.com

His work can be purchased here and here.

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.

Contributor Spotlight: Chadwick Ginther

The trees see everything, hear everything, know everything. In Lurkers in the Leaves, a man takes does all he can to stay away from them, but it never works for long. Eventually, she catches up to him, and it’s off with his head. Now she is upon him again, her acorn gaze fixed on him. Can he escape this time?

Tell us a little bit about what inspired “Lurkers in the Leaves”.

I wrote the first line of the story before there was a story, and it sat in my random notes file for a long time, probably years, before the rest of the connections fell into place. Ever since I first encountered tales of King Arthur, I’ve always had a bit of fondness for the story of Gawain and the Green Knight. Prior to drafting “Lurkers in the Leaves” I read Walking with the Green Man by Dr. Bob Curran. I’d had a few thoughts about trees and myth and adventure that I thought might all fit together within the framing of that bit of folklore and how I wanted to meld them. When I poked my nose back into that random notes file, there was my story’s first line, blazing like the sun. Obviously, I was also inspired by various trees I met in my misspent youth.

What do you hope readers get from reading “Lurkers in the Leaves”?

All I ever really want is for readers to enjoy my words. If they do that then maybe they’ll find some meaning in the story too.

How has your time in the Prairies influenced your writing? 

It’s everything. All of my published novels are set on the prairies and many of my short stories. I’ve never lived anywhere else, so all of my touchstones are here. I love the vastness, the openness, and the feeling that anything might be lurking just over the horizon. I’ll probably never be done with writing about the prairies.

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

As a reader there’s no better way to discover a new favourite author than a book that collects so many different voices. As a writer, I love them because I don’t feel I’m a natural short story writer, so interesting anthology open calls force me to write a bit outside my comfort zone and experiment with characters I wouldn’t necessarily hang an entire book on.

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

I’ve had two short story publications in 2021, “‘Til Death is Done” in Arcana and “Midnight Man versus Carrie Cthulhu” in Water: Selkies, Sirens, & Sea Monsters, both edited by Rhonda Parrish. My short story “All Cats Go to Valhalla” from 2020 was nominated for a Prix Aurora Award for Best Short Story this year. All three are quite different from “Lurkers in the Leaves” I think, and tie more directly to the worlds from my novels, but if you enjoy this story, you’ll probably enjoy those ones too. I hope so!

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

I don’t have any projects with a firm publication date right now, but I have a lot of things on the go. I’ve been experimenting with writing for roleplaying games, and right now I’m trying to clear my desk of a number of short stories that I started pre-COVID (or much, much earlier). I’d also love to finish up a novella that’s been on my mind. September 2022 will mark the tenth anniversary of Thunder Road’s publication, so I’m hoping to do something to celebrate that milestone next year.

Chadwick Ginther is the Prix Aurora Award-nominated author of the Thunder Road Trilogy and Graveyard Mind. His short fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including Parallel Prairies. He lives and writes in Winnipeg, Canada, spinning sagas set in the wild spaces of Canada’s western wilderness where surely monsters must exist.

Website: www.chadwickginther.com

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.

Contributor Spotlight: Bob Armstrong

In Bob Armstrong’s Frank 2.0, a man explores the life he could have lived when he realizes, while preparing for an evening out with his wife, his house is quite a bit more opulent than he remembered.

Tell us a little bit about what inspired “Frank 2.0“.

Like many people (at least I hope I’m not alone in this) I have often found myself day-dreaming about alternative life paths. What might have happened had I made a different choice at an early age? Where could I have ended up if some key opportunity had worked out? How could my life have had a more dramatic, exciting story arc to it? That these fantasies might be quite at odds with my actual personality or might have ended up very badly doesn’t seem to stop my mind from spinning through them.

What do you hope readers get from reading “Frank 2.0”?

Aside from a few laughs, I’d like readers to feel a little shock of recognition or the sense that they aren’t alone.

How has life in the Prairies affected this story?

Let’s face it, the prairies aren’t exactly the centre of the action. There may be many lifestyle benefits to the prairie provinces (and I’ve spent most of my life in Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton), but this isn’t the place to live if you place a high priority on experiencing the great dramas of your time. I tapped into the feeling that real life with real stakes takes place far from here when I was writing Frank 2.0.

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

For me, the short story is a great way to explore one idea. A concept like the one in Frank 2.0 couldn’t sustain a 300-page treatment, but it fits perfectly into the 4,000 or so words here. An anthology, then, provides the reader with a series of such explorations grouped thematically. And since the points of view, styles and ideas of the writers will be widely varied, the reader gets a wide array of perspectives on a common theme.

What other work would you like readers to know about?

The big thing that I’d like readers to know about is my new novel Prodigies (Five Star/Gale). It’s a western with elements of a superhero story, in which three youths with uncanny talents find themselves in Deadwood in 1877 facing off against a powerful megalomaniac. Plus it’s packed with pistoleros, steam engines, circus performers, strikes, strikebreakers, night riders and bounty hunters.

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

I’m working on a sequel to Prodigies, which I hope to send my publisher soon. I’ve also been shopping around a short fiction collection for a few years now. Publishers seem to like collections to be thematically and stylistically connected, perhaps still influenced by Alice Munro (Who’d have guessed it? Another reflective story set in small town Ontario!) and my stuff is quite intentionally all over the map. My next publication will be a creative non-fiction piece about my experiences with cancer and stand-up comedy, entitled The Cancer Joke, coming next year in The Fiddlehead.

Winnipegger Bob Armstrong has worked as a writer across western Canada. His western, Prodigies (Five Star Publishing), was published in 2021, almost a decade after his debut, Dadolescence (Turnstone Press). This year’s publications include memoirs on cycling (in Write to Move) and cancer and comedy (in Reunion: The Dallas Review), an essay on Canadian literary westerns (in the Literary Review of Canada) and a magical realist take on the pandemic (in FreeFall Magazine).

Prodigies is available online through Amazon or McNally Robinson Booksellers.

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.

Contributor Spotlight: David Demchuk

In Bloodbath (VHS, 1987, director unknown) a lost VHS tape offers footage of a grisly history.

Tell us a little bit about what inspired “Bloodbath (VHS, 1987, director unknown)”? 

The story in part came about because I had noticed in my social media feeds a resurgence in interest in hard-to-find VHS horror films, including direct-to-video films that never made the transition to DVD or Blu-Ray. Some of the films were dubs of dubs and in terrible shape, which somehow only added to their appeal. From there it wasn’t too difficult for me to imagine that footage from someone’s personal horror story might end up on a flea market table somewhere, and that’s when the story took off for me.

What do you hope readers get from reading “Bloodbath (VHS, 1987, director unknown)”? 

It’s mostly a nasty fun story, so I’m hoping they mostly just get creeped out by it. But I am very fond of the friendship between the two young women at its core, and the love of horror that unites them (although each for different reasons). It was also a nice opportunity for me to expand the Bone Mother universe ever so slightly.

How has your time in the Prairies influenced your writing?  

Of course, I was born and raised in Winnipeg in the pre-internet era, so the feeling of flatness and spaciousness and isolation was acute. We were a small city in a vast expanse, a dot on the map disconnected from all the other dots on the map, and I think that sense of remoteness, of living in a city and a community with its own rules and ways of dealing with things is very present in my work. Our main connection to the world beyond us was through movies and books and cable TV, and in particular the US stations that were near the border–KCND in Pembina, WDAZ in Devil’s Lake/Grand Forks, KTHI and KXJB in Fargo, and the PBS station KGFE (now part of the Prairie Public Television network). Some of these stations had locally produced late night chiller thriller shows on the weekend, as well as some creepy movies of the week and afternoon matinees, fuelling my interest in horror throughout my childhood. My other escape was my twice-yearly trip to my grandparent’s farm in Sandy Lake, which has featured prominently in some of my writing as well. 

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

I find short stories challenging to write. You have very few words in which to create memorable well-realized characters and intriguing conflicts and dilemmas, something that will draw the reader in quickly and then hold them in the story’s grip. Short stories are also a great place to try out new techniques and different approaches, things that may be difficult to sustain in a longer form. Anthologies give readers an opportunity to try out various writers they may not have read before, to sample their writing styles and worldviews; if you find a connection there, you may feel motivated to seek out their other work–other stories or novels or series.

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

I am best known for my two novels: my Giller-nominated debut The Bone Mother, which is a ‘mosaic novel’ inspired largely by Eastern European fairy tales and folklore, and RED X, which is a dark fantasia embracing queerness, horror and monstrosity as it tells of a seductive, ravenous creature taking men from Toronto’s gay village over decades and possibly centuries. 

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

I’ve started a new novel about a woman overwhelmed and unmoored by grief, returning to her notoriously haunted childhood summer home looking for answers in the wake of her husband’s recent suicide and her teenaged son’s disappearance. She finds them.

Award-winning author David Demchuk has been writing for print, stage, digital and other media for more than 40 years. His debut horror novel The Bone Mother was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Amazon First Novel Award, the Toronto Book Award, the Kobzar Book Award and a Shirley Jackson Award in the Best Novel category. It won the 2018 Sunburst Award in the Adult Fiction category. His troubling new novel RED X is published by Strange Light, an imprint of Penguin Random House. His short fiction is in the anthologies Fantasmagoriana II (Winnipeg Thin Air Festival), There Is No Death, There Are No Dead (Crystal Lake Publishing) and Alternate Plains (Great Plains Publications).

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.

Contributor Spotlight: Lynne M. MacLean

In Wild Hunt, the host and camera operator for a cryptid-focused TV show are in northern Saskatchewan to film their latest “Bigfoot” episode. As the host contemplates his crewmate’s increasingly hostile behaviour, he learns there is something flying overhead at night — something spectral and vengeful, out to punish the guilty. The night goose is out for prey.

Tell us a little bit about what inspired “Wild Hunt”. 

I love watching cryptozoology videos and television shows, and the more poorly produced, the better. I find them hilarious. But of course, for a fiction writer, there is always the “what if it was real?” question. As well, I have always found the ancient European tale of the Wild Hunt to be quite compelling, complete with the baying of hounds. But in Canada, we have the evocative, eerie thunder of migrating geese, perfect for our own Wild Hunt.

What do you hope readers get from reading “Wild Hunt”? 

The main character has a moral dilemma about how far to go in stopping another person’s truly horrible behaviour, especially since one of the options plays selfishly into his own agenda. This story doesn’t provide the answer, but I hope it gives readers pause to think.  I hope it also provokes a sense of wonder, while providing some chills and a chuckle or two.

How has your time in the Prairies influenced your writing?  

Of my 13 published works, six of them take place in the prairies, or northern prairie provinces. I was born and raised in Winnipeg, and lived the first 32 years of my life in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta (excluding two years in Yellowknife). As such, the prairies and their northern regions were formative for me as a person, and so, are integral to my writing. There’s the hardiness and humour of the people, and their strong scepticism, that I hope I work with in my fiction. As well, the sometimes-stark beauty of the open landscape, and the freedom of the wide skies can’t help but inspire a sense of the power of nature. And if the geography doesn’t do that, then the wind and weather certainly will. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of an appreciation of eternity with the awareness that things can change in a dangerous way in the blink of an eye. I think I carry all that with me when I write. Oh, and the mosquitoes have trained me to put up with the sting of rejections. (I asked my husband, also from the prairies, the above question. He said it made my writing windy.)

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

Anthologies and magazines can introduce readers to a variety of authors in a shorter period than if they were to read a book by each one. You can fit a short story into your life more easily sometimes, especially when busy, or if you’re on call and don’t want to interrupt a full novel at unexpected times. Curating short stories into anthologies allows the reader to experience all this with themes that already excite them.

For the writer, short stories provide an opportunity to experiment with new forms, themes, and genres, without the time investment of a full novel. They force you to get to the point with less filler. You get more opportunities for skill-honing feedback with story rejections than with novels. Finally, taking part in an anthology can open you to the writing of other authors that you might not otherwise read, and sometimes you even get to meet each other.

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

My most recent works include my poem “Threads of Saffron”(Augur Magazine, 2021, 4.1)  – a poem about magic, caring, and soup; “Grass Whisperer”(Speculative North, 2020, #1) – a mystical poem about our connection to dawn and dusk, and “Wards” (Room Magazine, 2019, 4.2.1) – a story of family addiction and dragons.

But if readers are interested in other Western Canadian tales of mine, the most prairie-ish one is “Storm Wife” (On Spec Magazine, 2015, #101, 27(2)) which takes place in pre-floodway Winnipeg, and combines my experiences as a grandchild of Highland Scots immigrants with the Highland legend of the Storm Wife and the massive Manitoba spring floods. Then, “Ursa Major” (Stupefying Stories, 2016, 101.5) is a dark humour novelette from Northern Saskatchewan, involving menopausal werebears and a murder. At last, comes “Cold Wars”(On Spec Magazine, 2019, #111, 30(1)) – a Northern Alberta horror story about polar politics and humanity’s interference with nature. It incorporates a little Samuel Taylor Coleridge here and there as a palate cleanser. A fish story for anglers.

My website has links for the reading or purchase of all the above, plus several other published pieces.

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

I have two novels I’m hoping to find homes for, one currently under consideration with a publisher, and the other of which I’m just finishing up the second draft before sending to beta readers.  As for short stories and poems, I have a couple out for submission and I’m sure I’ll write more, so stay tuned.

Lynne M. MacLean (she/her) was born and raised in Winnipeg, MB, where she began her career as a mental health practitioner. She studied and worked in Edmonton, Yellowknife, and Saskatoon before ending up in Ottawa, ON, where she is a community/mental health research consultant. She has had several publications of short fiction and poetry, including in Augur Magazine, Room Magazine, On Spec Magazine, Podcastle, Speculative North, and Stupefying Stories, among others. She can be found on Twitter @lynnemaclean2 and on her website.

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.

Contributor spotlight: Patrick Johanneson

Today we hear from Patrick Johanneson, author of Summertime in the Void, in which a man wanders a deserted, post-rapture Manitoba.

Tell us a little bit about what inspired Summertime in the Void.

The title is taken from an I Mother Earth song from the ’90s, and so is some of the imagery: most obviously the upside-down sun. I also wanted to explore the Singularity, the so-called “Rapture of the Nerds,” and what might happen in an almost entirely empty world if the Singularity still loved those it was forced to abandon.

What do you hope readers get from reading Summertime in the Void?

I hope they enjoy my exploration of the question “What happens if the Singularity doesn’t want you?”

How has your time in the Prairies influenced your writing?

The skies above us are huge and full of stars, especially if you can find a dark place far from the lights of the cities. The cities and the towns are far apart and the fields, the lakes, and the woods outnumber the people.

What do you feel anthologies, and short stories in general, accomplish that longer works like novellas and novels may not?

Short stories tell a different kind of story than a novel, more compact but not necessarily smaller. Every scene, every word, is important. Short stories also give you an opportunity to check out a new writer without the commitment of a longer work.

What work have you done that you’d like the readers to know about too? Please share!

My website has a number of my short stories available for free – https://patrickjohanneson.com/fiction/ . (My favourites include Resurrection Radio, Exit Interview, and The Trick (in the Very Short Stories group).) If you’re interested, I also post a lot of photographs, including astrophotography – https://patrickjohanneson.com/category/photos/ .

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

My current projects include a novella about a wizard trying to stop a nuclear warhead from obliterating his city; another novella features a derelict slower-than-light starship arriving at a world colonized by faster-than-light ships that left Earth centuries later than the derelict. (Plus ghosts.)

Contributor Spotlight: Rhonda Parrish

In Rhonda Parrish’s Purple City, it’s said that if you stare up at the floodlights around the Alberta Legislature, you can turn the whole town purple. But is it a simple optical illusion, or is something stranger — and darker — at work?

Tell us a little bit about what inspired “Purple City”.

The Alberta Legislature building is surrounded by big orange floodlights. When I first moved up to Edmonton my husband told me about this thing called ‘Turning on purple city’ where people would stare at those lights for about an hour and then when they looked away all the orange receptors in their eyes would be overloaded so it would make everything look purple. As soon as I heard about that I knew I wanted to write about it somehow but make the shift of colour connected to a shift of another type — of perception? Of reality? I wasn’t really sure until I started writing.

What do you hope readers get from reading “Purple City”?

A chill.

How has your time in the Prairies influenced your writing?

I think it’s kind of just always there. It’s so cliche to say ‘The [landscape/setting] is a character’ when you talk about books, movies or stories, but things become cliche for a reason. Growing up in rural Alberta the land really was a character in my story — an influence upon every single aspect of my life. So, given that, it was definitely one of the forces which helped shape and mold me which means its influence is there in my work whether I can see it or not.

Most often I think it shows itself in the things I choose to write about, or where I decide to set things, but there’s probably a quiet, more subtle influence under everything which is more difficult to pin-point. Like the gopher tunnels which lurked just beneath the surface on the land I grew up on, only betraying their existence with the gopher holes that marked their existence — there but nearly invisible.

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

Brevity.

…I won’t lie, I was tempted to leave it at that, just to be funny. But I shall resist that urge.

I love anthologies, both as the editor of and a contributor to. They are sort of like a smorgasbord of fiction — you can buy one book and get to read the work of a dozen different authors who will each have a unique take on the anthology’s subject matter. If you like a story you can look up more work by that author, if you don’t like a story you can skip it and move on to the next and still feel like you got value for your book-buying dollar.

And one of the best things about short stories is right there in their name — they are short. Reading a novel means investing hours and hours of time and attention and sometimes you just don’t have the time or the attention span to do that. That’s where short stories come in. You can read one, start to finish, in one sitting.

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

I recently released a Norse mythology inspired urban fantasy called One in the Hand that I am super excited about. In it, the trouble begins when Autumn’s grandmother, who is in a supported living facility is found with a sword and Autumn has to figure out where it came from. Things only get worse when wings sprout from her back. Dun dun dun! It’s got a prairie connection, as well, because I’ve set it in Edmonton. None of the characters turn on purple city, alas, but maybe I can work that into the sequel.

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

I actually have a different answer for each of these questions, which is fun! LOL

I’m almost always working on something short (usually for my Patreon) but the next novel-length project I’ll be starting is the sequel to One in the Hand which I’ll be breaking ground on in November because it’s going to be this year’s NaNoWriMo novel. I expect it to be called In a Gilded Cage.

The next novel-length project I’ll be releasing, however, is called Blindspots and it is a post-apocalyptic-ish, dieselpunk-ish, dark-ish story that meshes magic and machines together in ways that were a lot of fun to write. All the main characters are anthropomorphic dogs (plus one owl!) who are eking out a life in what remains of the world after major climate changes and a massive war. When Ricky’s brother goes missing, he must use his nose, his wits and all his friends to find him and bring him back. I’ll be releasing this one exclusively on my Patreon early in 2022 (which is coming surprisingly quickly)!

Like a magpie, Rhonda Parrish is constantly distracted by shiny things. She’s the editor of many anthologies and author of plenty of books, stories and poems. She lives with her husband and two cats in Edmonton, Alberta, and she can often be found there playing Dungeons and Dragons, bingeing crime dramas, making blankets or cheering on the Oilers.

Her website, updated regularly, is at http://www.rhondaparrish.com and her Patreon, updated even more regularly, is at https://www.patreon.com/RhondaParrish.

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.

Contributor Spotlight: S.M. Beiko

Sandy is a good girl, but she lives a lonely, damaged life in the company of a cruel father, her pain seen only by the haints — spirits of good girls past whose lives were cut short by cruelty. As the years pass and the mistreatment does not abate, Sandy realizes what she has to do to avoid sharing the haints’ fate.

Tell us a little about what inspired “The Good Girls“.

Most of my stories start out with an image in my head, like a movie still. I just couldn’t get the visual of a little girl hanging out with a corpse out of my head, and that the living girl, while appropriately scared initially, became set on helping out the dead girl; appearances aren’t always as they seem! Also, just love a good suburban haunting with a grave-digging avenger.

What do you hope readers get from reading “The Good Girls”?

I wanted to convey a story whose main action is listening. That listening is not a helpless act, and taking in someone else’s truth can completely influence your own. And that the dead always have something to say.

How has your time in the Prairies influenced your writing? 

The prairies are often overlooked because, well, geographically speaking there usually isn’t much going on here. Which us prairie-dwellers know is patently untrue (see Parallel Prairies, and the entirety of Alternate Plains!), and it’s also a sentiment we are sick of hearing. I find that giant urban metropolises (metropoli?) can really detract from the menace of an abandoned farm field, or miles of bush that lead nowhere. All this open space gives our brains a ton of runway, especially when you approach storytelling from a ‘what weird angle can I put on this mundane thing’ spin. The possibilities, the mythos, are endless. It’s always the most unassuming settings that have the sharpest teeth.

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

They’re lean, cutting, a moment in time. You are immediately in the story, and half the set-up is up to the reader. I often find short stories, deftly executed, are the ones that stick with you longest, because the reader pours a lot of themselves to fill in the gaps the author has left for you.

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

Adult/horror is a fun genre to me because I mostly write for a younger audience (teens) with a focus on fantasy. But aside from writing, I’m also a visual artist, and I create a webcomic called Krampus Is My Boyfriend! which is a slice of life fantasy comedy about Krampus going to school with his unwitting teenaged summoner, and fighting monsters and mages on the side. Writing short stories and novels is definitely…I don’t want to say easier, but spending a year drawing 100 pages, then having someone read it in half an hour, is gutting (but totally rewarding!) You can find KiMBF! on the Webtoon App here.

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

I’m constantly working on KiMBF!, but I’ve also got a new young adult fantasy series coming to shelves soon! The first book, The Stars of Mount Quixx, is slated for release through ECW Press in April 2023, with its four sequels coming in subsequent years. The series is called The Brindlewatch Quintet, and is Ransom Riggs meets A Series of Unfortunate Events. I’ve had Quixx in my writer-trunk for 10 years, so I’m extra excited for people to finally read it!

Samantha Mary (S.M.) Beiko is a Winnipeg-based artist, author, and editor.

Her young adult novels are The Lake and the Library (ECW Press, 2013), Scion of the Fox (ECW Press, 2017) (which won the 2018 Copper Cylinder Award), Children of the Bloodlands (2018) and The Brilliant Dark (2019). She is the co-editor of Gothic Tales of Haunted Love (Bedside Press, 2018), and the solo editor of its follow-up, Gothic Tales of Haunted Futures (Renegade Arts Entertainment, 2020.) Her short fiction has been anthologized in Gush: Menstrual Manifestos of Our Times (Frontenac House, 2018), Parallel Prairies: Stories (Enfield & Wizenty, 2018) and Alternate Plains (Enfield & Wizenty, 2021). Beiko is also the artist and writer for the creator-owned webcomic, Krampus is My Boyfriend!, which won the 2020 Aurora Award for Best Graphic Novel, and was nominated for the 2020 Joe Shuster Award for Best Webcomic. Her next novel, The Stars of Mount Quixx, is slated for release in April 2023, beginning a new 5-book series called The Brindlewatch Quintet.

Website: www.smbeiko.com

Her work can be purchased via her website here, or wherever books are sold.

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.