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Against Our Better Nature
A Storied Winnipeg
Christmas Stories
Code World
Days of the Virus
Glooscap's Plan
Isolates and Survivors
Living in Ashton
Surviving the Apocalypse
The Bloody History of the Fertile Crescent
Tom Waits Music to Stories
Working After the Collapse
Writing This Ability
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Against Our Better Nature: Why Good People Do Bad Things

The stories in this collection are more concerned with the everyday events which try our values, the choices we are faced with on a daily basis which are not featured in Hollywood movies or famous novels, but nonetheless prove to exercise our ethical selves. Like anyone else, these characters are confronted by moral choices even as they are torn between following their own selfish desires or the urge to perform an altruistic act. As diverse as the people who make up our world, the characters ask themselves if they should cheat on their spouse, steal money or goods, lie to a friend, think only about themselves, or give others the benefit of the doubt.

Follow along as people you recognize are faced with choosing between good and evil. That most essential human exercise of our moral selves defines whether we are merely slaves to another's rules or sociopaths who heed none.


A Storied Winnipeg: Fables and Local Legends

The stories of Winnipeg are as varied as the city itself. Caught in the middle of the continent by the amber of its past glory and its current penury, Winnipeg occupies a rare and beautiful place in the Canadian landscape.

Interspersed in the collection, like unsettled commuters on the buses that ply the unploughed streets, are the Mutes and Norms Newsletters, which detail either the deterioration of a person's mind or some vast city-wide conspiracy. There are also tales of live-in maids in Tuxedo mansions, wheelers and dealers in the real-estate trade, ghostly presences who understand something special about the city, love stories with strange Winnipeg twists, and tales of escape only to return. There is a vortex that draws us, some lodestone against which we feel ungovernable attraction and a wary repulsion.

This collection is about that tension, the taut grasp and thrust that is the largest city in Manitoba, its nodes of the two universities, its religious fanatics who write angry Jesus in the snow and on dirty windows, the many crushed faces of its poor, the backroom dealings that give rise to shoddy infrastructure and corrupt city council.

A city of extremes, Winnipeg is only slowly coming into words, and those words are abrupt and sprawling, glittering and soiled, ecstatic and forlorn.


Christmas Stories, or What Christmas Means to Me

The Christmas Season - Why don't we value Grinch and Scrooge for themselves instead of the presents they bring? A lighthearted look at materialism and the media.

The Christmas Tree Embargo - What if Canada cut off trees to the United States? Follow the chaos and delight that comes about as a result of the Christmas tree embargo.

The Goods on Christmas - The story of a Christmas in-law visit gone horribly wrong in the breathless voice of the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. This is as much a treatise on North American Christmas celebrations as it is a story about a particularly cold mother-in-law and the frigidity of the northern winter.

Giving in the Holiday Season - A plea from that most endangered species, the penniless professor. A tongue and cheek look at contract work in the paper mines.

They're Dreaming of a Non-White Christmas - What if Aboriginal people in Canada woke up on Christmas morning with the greatest present of all? A story as much about our history as it is about our present.


Code World: Signs of the Apocalypse

Genetic code is modifiable through cheap and dubious online kits, and the VR technology of the rich allows them to visit even the most dangerous slums. Lying in bed in secure buildings, and using hologram projectors that allow them to be both present and invulnerable, they stalk the dismal streets looking for ever more exciting carnage, a child splayed under the wheels of a truck, the bodies of Ebola victims and the carnage of the resource wars.

These ghostlike beings drift along the hundred terabit trunklines, since they cannot substantiate far from a data source. If they pay enough for the protocols, and their VR gear is comprehensive, then their substantiation is stronger, and even modifiable, and they can hear and smell. Hackers flood to where avatars are the thickest, however, cracking firewalls and into the code stream. They wreak havoc with the imagery, but also hack along the line, getting to the source, which is the reclining meat body which controls so much of the wealth of the society.

Young people want to hack, old people want to use the system to their advantage, and groups set up events where code reality is mixed with what they call real. Anything is possible if you have a high data line and money and the willingness to take risks.


Coronavirus looked like it was going to radically change the world. But if it managed to bring people together as they commiserated about their common fear, it also let loose a shuddering flood of suspicion and generosity, xenophobia and acceptance, hatred and tenderness, superstition and investigative potential.

Some compared it to the 1918 Spanish Flu, but without the internet those who had been affected a hundred years earlier didn't know they were part of a vast suffering community. With COVID-19, people from around the world watched other communities cope and fall apart, their favourite celebrities break down on screen, and conspiracy fantasies proliferate. Such was the temper of the times that the words of mad people online began seem as valid as the statistics of the disease, and statements from health authorities seemed to be laced with fear and suspicion.

Into this maelstrom of dread and mayhem, a small group of people found their lives shredded or enhanced, as they struggled to survive the new circumstances of widespread fear, contagion, and government crackdowns. With the internet to fuel their doubts and delights, they sought for answers from a system which had been built more for entertainment than scholarly pursuit. Seeking to learn when the pandemic would end, they didn't know if they were constructing a new community from strangers or would be greeted by snarling dogs at their door.


Glooscap's Plan

Long ago Glooscap promised to return if his people were in need, but it was only when he learned of the destruction of the Atlantic Provinces that he made the journey back to the Minas Basin. There, learning about the mines and clear-cuts, the factory farms and failing fisheries, and woken by the Jackie Vautour standoff in Kouchibouguac Park, and inspired by the Burnt Church Rebellion, he has returned with a plan that will return the provinces to a prosperity they have not seen in over three hundred years.

With the help of the otter and the whale, the butterfly and the frog, as well as some Aboriginal people and even whites, he sets a series of events in motion that have implications that even he cannot predict.

Follow along on this story that outlines what could be a viable proposal to make the Maritimes the beautiful provinces they deserve to be.


Isolates and Survivors: Stories of Resilience

Isolates and Survivors began as a collection of stories about hardy, tenacious people and how they overcome their grueling circumstances. It quickly ballooned as I became aware that I was drawn to the notion of self-reliance and the ability to endure. I respect those who keep their empathy even while everything is taken from them. In this collection people endure mental instability, find everything they know to be true is wrong, and yet still reach out tenderly, even though the world hands them stones on their cracked plate.


Living in Ashton

Lost in the immense sweep of the Manitoba prairie, forgotten by thousands in the faraway city of Winnipeg, the people of Ashton live a simpler life. Here Jesus appears and walks the dusty town roads, aliens hover over the water tower, a simple name enacts a life-long curse and nine churches struggle to save the townspeople's reluctant souls.

Defined by a main street with a post office and a grocer, a rink and the police station where Eddy Prosser tortures Aboriginal kids, Ashton is bounded by the dump to the south, where the Frisians live, and the reserve to the west, where no one goes. To the north, farmer Lohmer owns a spread so vast that the town registry has lost count of his holdings, and from the east come the storms.


Surviving the Apocalypse: Dystopias and Doomsdays

Surviving the Apocalypse is a short story collection which attempts to plumb both the depths of human depravity and our profound ability to overcome adversity.

Some stories feature protagonists who have endured terrifying ordeals and still retain their humanity, while others show our ingenuity when we encounter a seemingly impossible obstacle. Four of the stories from this collection feature the four riders of the apocalypse as they ride on the wings of death, while others ponder the future of our technological prowess or shift us into the age of unpolished stone.

These are stories about people we recognize faced with impossible choices and unenviable tasks. These thought experiments in solitude and resourcefulness show us how much of what we think of as humanity can be preserved when faced with the destruction of our world.


The Bloody History of the Fertile Crescent

Biblical stories have a grave and exhilarating rhetorical power. Even those who claim they have been raised without the benefit of church have not entirely evaded scripture; when they hear the familiar tales of the Ark, Garden, and Jesus on the cross, the expression on their face betrays an understanding, on almost a visceral level, of the biblical narratives.
The stories that traditional tellings have avoided, that hover just behind the prevailing interpretation, are some of the most interesting of all. These stories remained untold because the characters were seen as uninteresting or unpopular and therefore no place was reserved for them in the dominant record. There are also buried stories secreted within the main figures, their more obscure motivations and hidden wishes.
Read here of Ismael and Isaac's unusual connection, to see how Jesus came to be the son of God, how Satan and God's relationship deteriorated, how Jonah fared in the whale, and why Adam and Eve left the garden. Read to find out why Job was punished, what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, where Joseph got his coat, and the origins of Mary's fantastic explanation. Learn what Moses did with the first set of commandments, why Cain slew Abel, why the Tower of Babel faltered, and Jesus' advice about talent. Read this alternative bible so this ancient text can fulfil its original project: The Bloody History of the Fertile Crescent.


Tom Waits' Music to Stories Series

Wasted and Wounded: Narrative in Tom Waits' Songs

This collection unearths the stories that run parallel to those of Tom Waits' early songs. They do not retell as much as push the envelope wider, strain the meaning of a few lines, and stretch the place the song occupies so that the river rats and abandoned dogs, crying children on the street and shifty-eyed suits, salesmen with their patter and hobos with their rags, can shoulder out a space. Searching for the American dream and distracted by a promise, a woman tosses pennies into liquor bottles in a half moon bar, a fast car leaves the parking lot with the radio on full, even while a knife fight wounds the street and an old man pumps quarters into a one-armed bandit.

The songs tell the story of a man who carries the Midwest on him like a ring he can't get off, who rattles on the wide streets of the American west like a tin can tied to a junkyard dog and crowds in the eastern cities where the brownstones spill out onto the broad steps of long afternoons. Refusing to be caught by the despair of the endless nights, he jockeys for dollars with the sell-outs, fishes for the glisten of silver among the litter in the alleys, and sleeps under the bridge on a rainy night.

Innocent When You Dream: Narrative in Tom Waits' Songs

This second volume of my Narrative in Tom Waits' Songs series follows the shifts in his music as Reagan's eighties tumbled into the nineties. The narrative voice shifts with his music as the stories drift outside the personal to examine the world around him just as much as it does his reactions to it. Tom Waits' middle period is much more experimental than his early work. The piano-playing hard-drinking and smoking Waits of The Heart of Saturday Night and Nighthawks at the Diner settled down into the much stranger magician and carnival roustabout of the eighties.

This third volume of my Narrative in Tom Waits' Songs series is an attempt to tell the story of his later period beginning with the dark tapestry of tales and stripped-down guttural roar of blues rock in Bone Machine. Released in 1992, in many ways that album was the hollering inbred cousin who didn't find enough room on Rain Dogs. Within a year The Black Rider tells its listeners-in case we have forgotten from earlier albums-that "There's a lot of things in this world / you're going to have no use for." The anodyne to this is not the roustabout drinking of his earlier period, however, for "when you get blue / And you've lost all your dreams / There's nothin' like a campfire / And a can of beans." The campfire and the can of beans do not cure the world's ills; there is just nothing like them.


Working After the Collapse

The purpose of this collection is to present a series of documents from the post oil crash period, some two hundred years ago now. Although many written records remain from that chaotic time, and anthologies of this type have, arguably, been produced, we contend that court records, government documents, and the more questionable newspaper boards do not give a valid impression of the common people's felt experiences of the subsequent chaos. We have endeavoured, with that attempted veracity in mind, to collect a series of texts that we contend are representative of the Canadian experience in particular, and the post-oil crash world in general.


We use the expression scattered skills a lot of the time when talking about disability, and I have come to embrace that idea. Some people are good at math. I am not. I have a good spatial sense. Others do not. I have begun to think about this spectrum of human skills, all the way from Kim Peek to the dullness we call normality as the true range of human ability. In our technological future we will perhaps ameliorate this somewhat with electronic fixes, but in the meantime we are left with the delightful variation that is humanity, the confines of our biology and the cultural attempts to constrain our minds.

The stories in this collection represent more than just tear-jerking accounts of overcoming adversity, although I've told a few of those too. I'm more interested in exploring the potential of what we consider to be dis and ability through characters who are constrained by circumstance and societal expectation even as they fight against those limits.

Rather than use this description to label these characters further, I would say instead that the reach of the human intellect, the intransigence of human dignity, the rough multiplicity of circumstances with which we are confronted, are no match for the fortitude and insight of the one who wants to escape.

No hardened criminal fought harder to carve a prison wall than someone trapped by a story about their abilities and no escapee on a welcoming shore felt more a sense of achievement than one whose diagnosis was stretched and then broken.

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