JMFrey

Granny Le Guin

Granny Le Guin

Image result for ursula k le guin

I know I’ve said it before, but I didn’t really grow up in a family of readers. Mom is constantly reading books passed to her by relatives and neighbors, and she passes them on after that –  mostly thrillers and dramas, though, not the sort of thing that interested me at an impressionable age.

At no point that I recall did someone hand me a book and say “Here, I want to share this with you.” Aside from some minimal librarian guidance when women manning the school counters saw me gravitating to this or that genre, I mostly found my favorite reads and authors by devouring everything on a shelf or through online fan forums.

This means I somehow utterly missed Ursula K. Le Guin. I don’t know how, or why. You’d think schools would have a thousand copies of The Left Hand of Darkness on the shelf. Or that at some point I’d be forced to read it for class. (The only sci-fi books I directly recall reading for class was The Keeper of the Isis Light by Monica Hughs for a grade seven project on worldbuilding, where I deliberately chose the one book no one else did so I wouldn’t have to be in a group.)

It wasn’t until the after-school programing block on YTV introduced me to anime (Sailor Moon! Inu Yasha! Escaflowne! Gundam Wing! Dragonball Z!) that I ever heard of Le Guin, and that was only because in 2006 Ghibli Studios announced “Tales from Earthsea.”  I was living in Japan at the time, and the English section of the local bookstore was quite slim. But they did have the Earthsea series in an omnibus volume, and I took that home and consumed it in a weekend to prepare for the release of the film.

(I was disappointed, of course. I don’t know why Ghibli has a habit of taking a great story and turning it incomprehensible. They did the same to Howl’s Moving Castle, too, another series and author I discovered because they announced the adaptation).

I can honestly tell you that the Earthsea books – aside from the multitude of Stargate: Atlantis fan fiction I was consuming at the time – was the only story to directly influence my debut novel Triptych.  I began writing the original incarnation of the novel, a novella titled (Back), in January 2006, or thereabouts.

Reading the Earthsea books made me think a lot about the standard Fantasy Narrative, Hero, & Land that I’d consumed via Piers Anthony and Anne Rice novels up until then. It was the first time I had been confronted by my own inherent racism – why was I surprised to realize that Ged wasn’t white? – and by the privileges I had enjoyed as a reader until now.

It made me think a lot about what kinds of stories weren’t being told, by which kinds of characters, from which kinds of POVs. While I didn’t go as far as retroactively would have liked in making the cast and locations more diverse, or the discussions and displays of sexuality more complicated, I certainly would not have been thinking about these things at all were it not for Earthsea.

Many people have compared Triptych to Stranger in a Strange Land, or Canticle for Leibowitz, or The Left Hand of Darkness. None of which I read before I wrote the book (the first two of which I still haven’t read since), for which I’m glad. Because I might not have dared to write Triptych if I had read The Left Hand of Darkness first.

When Dr. Mike Perschon invited me to speak at the Grant MacEwan English Student Conference in February 2017 to speak in his English course “Topics in Race and Gender” – where he was teaching my sophomore novel The Untold Tale he mentioned the names of some of the other books on the syllabus. And I realized that I was about to step in front of a classroom filled with people who were expecting me to know at least one of the other authors I was being taught alongside and panicked.

Oh crap.

I read it on the plane to Edmonton and whoa nelly was I glad I did. Those students were way more prepared for my weekend than I was. And again, I was so, so happy that I had not read Left Hand before Triptych, because there were choices that Le Guin had made in the novel that would have made me want to veer opposite in response. Because I would have wanted to explore the areas her narrative hadn’t. In being unaware, I got to explore some of the same fees, but in a different, parallel light.

I always thought Ursula Le Guin would get a kick out of that. Though, of course, I don’t think my work was as thoughtful as hers, so I would have been terrified to even consider to put it into her hands. She was, by all accounts, the kind of woman to call out cowardice and shallowness when she saw it. And in reading Left Hand, she made me wish I had been a braver storyteller when I’d put Triptych on the page.

Luckily, I had not yet finished edits on The Silenced Tale when I read Left Hand. And I think I did make the harder, bolder choices with that novel. And I know for a fact that I went back into some of my notes for future novels and changed up the ideas in there, too.

Ursula K. Le Guin made me a stronger writer, not once, but twice.  I wanted to one day thank her for that. This is the closest I’ll ever get, now.

 

*

 

On the day Anne McCaffrey passed away, her son Todd emailed a group of people, me among them, and told us that the announcement was going to go out that day and to prepare ourselves. I’d only met Todd the once, when he decided to crash the launch party for Triptych, and he’d given me a beautiful blurb for my debut novel as a result.

Todd barely knew me from Eve, but I appreciated the heads-up all the same.  Because it gave me time to excuse myself from my dayjob desk and go have a private sob in the ladies’. I took an extralong lunch that day, and went to the book store, and purchased myself a copy of the very first Dragonriders of Pern book. I’d read McCaffrey before, but never the Pern books. I don’t know what I had been waiting for.

I only knew that now was finally the time, to connect to McCaffrey through her most famous work by buy a book that I would never be able to get her to sign for me. In reading the novel  I was reminded that she was one of the great founders of not only modern fantasy and science fiction, but one of the pantheon of women who I have nicknamed “Gran” in my head, because they were the ones whose work were a direct influence on my own, the way they have directly or indirectly influenced so many writers who have come after them.

Grannie McCaffrey was gone.

In the last few years, I’ve lost another of my Grans – Diana Wynne Jones, author of the Howl’s Moving Castle books. That left Gran Lois Lowry, Gran Jennifer Roberson, and Gran Ursula K. Le Guin

And now I’ve lost another of the great beloved women of my literary genesis and the dreams of my childhood heart.

She was never mine, not really. Not in the way she was her family’s, or her publisher’s or her agents. But she was mine in my heart, in my imagination, in what she taught me as a feminist, as a storyteller, as a teacher. I looked to her and her work the way a child looks to their grandparent for advice, and a kind word, and good stories.

I hoped one day to shake her hand. To maybe even call her Gran to her face, though I would have to explain why. To thank her.

Part of the reason I started pushing my own work for Hugos and Nebulas was because I wanted to get the chance to sit beside her, to look her in the eye in the middle of the acceptance speech and say “This is yours, in part.”

 

*

 

There’s a joke, in The Accidental Turn series, that my character Elgar Reed is a literary magpie. He’s the author of  “The Tales of Kintyre Turn”, a 1980s style sword-and-sorcery epic of either novels about a lord’s son who rejects his pampered upbringing to go swing an enchanted sword on the front lines of an inter-racial magical war.  I imagined Reed as the kind of writer who figures the best way to get famous is to do exactly what everyone else before him did – his work is a Lord of the Rings knockoff, with elements he’s grabbed from everyone who came after the Professor. To the point where there are moments where

He’s the kind of self-important author who thinks that he’s cleverer than his readers, and that he can pull the wool over their eyes, instead of realizing that a reader and a writer are a team that tell the story together. See, he thinks we won’t notice.

And this sort of meta storytelling gave me the opportunity to use his selfish magpieshness to fill the my books with my own tributes to my Grans. A pub that Bevel and Kintyre frequent is called The Pern. And the land in which they venture is called Hain.

I so wanted to be able to share that little wink and nod with her. And the gratitude.

She reached through her prose and made me braver – not just as a writer, but as a feminist, as an activist, as a bi woman with a disability, as a human over all.  I’m sure I’m not the only one, too.

So I guess the only thing I can say now is:

Thanks, Gran. They’re all yours, in part.

 

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JM FreyGranny Le Guin
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Cover Reveal – City By Night

 

Preorder the book on Amazon | Read a preview on Wattpad | Visit the Publisher | Shelve the book on GoodReads

I don’t know why, but there seems to be this media-wide conspiracy to ensure that every vampire story set in the 20th and 21st centuries has a mystery element to it. Some are police procedurals with fangs, some have the immortal undead seeking vengeance for the innocent and wronged as detectives and vigilantes, and some focus on supernatural conflicts and personal conundrums in the vampire’s life. But make no mistake – there are a ton of vampire detective stories out there.

Off the top of my head I can think of Dracula: the Series, Forever Knight, The  Anita Blake books, The Vampire Files, Angel: The Series, Dark Shadows, Moonlight, Nightwalker, Master of Mosquiton, Michael Morbius, and Blood Ties (both television and books)And that’s without bringing up Wikipedia or Google.

So of course when I was writing my master’s thesis project on Mary Sues and self-representative characters in fanfiction, and I was asked to write a few fanfics of my own demonstrating the principal of the paper, my mind leapt back to my first fandom love – Nicholas de Brabant aka Detective Nick Knight of the Metro Toronto Police Department. I was young, impressionable, and hooked on Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles when one of my cousins introduced me to the Canadian television series Forever Knight.

I tracked down every episode, recorded them onto blank VHS tapes, and watched and rewatched, and rerewatched the weekly mysteries that Detective Knight solved – both legal and supernatural – in the quest to redeem his soul as penance for the lives he’d taken as a young vampire during the Crusades. (Those VHS tapes, by the way, have since been donated to the film department of my undergrad alma mater for research material. The commercials that aired around the show are what’s important to scholars now.) Watching the DVD box set of the episodes while doing my Master’s, I saw that the show didn’t hold up as well as my nostalgia wished.  But Geriant Wyn Davies was still dreamy.

And I did notice something else –the pattern. The trope. The stereotype of the vampire who, for some reason or other, decides that it’s his duty to ‘repay society for his sins’, and chooses the path of protecting the innocent and avenging wrongs. To become the Thing That Goes Bump In The Night That Bumps Back. To be a bully bigger and badder than the regular bullies. To use their considerable powers, and memory, and experiences not to exploit, but to protect. And to brood artfully while doing so.

Why was that, I wondered.

Do we humans know that despite our bravado, we are all, in the end, still prey? Prey to one another, to random acts of god, to circumstance and terrorism, war and disease? And do we seek protection so badly that we’re willing to turn to –to have the gall to imagine – a predator willing to guard rather than eat us?

Or is there something titillating about walking that knife-edge of danger? Of knowing that at any moment, the protector could become the stalker, the murderer, the seducer?

The more I thought about it, the more I decided that this is what I had to write about for my thesis project. The trope of the wolf turned shepherd, the stereotype of the vampire detective, and the stock characters that routinely surround him. And as I was working as a production assistant on a made-for-TV film at the time, making my lead protagonist, my Mary Sue, a PA seemed like the most appropriate decision.

Thus “City By Night” was born. Originally meant to be a photo-graphic novel where I would pull the ultimate self-representative stunt and model for the Mary Sue character, the project fell through and I revamped (pun intended) the tale into a prose novella. This gave me a lot more opportunity to develop the backstories and characters, which I jumped into with glee.

Writing “City By Night” felt a lot like writing fanfic of my favourite media texts, but it also gave me one of my first opportunities to flex my own creative wings and start to find my own voice.  This was the first instance of the meta-textual storytelling I love to employ, which you’ll find more polished in my The Accidental Turn fantasy series.

And of course, it gave me lots of excuses to reread and rewatch my favourite vampires and swoon, squee, and sigh.

Though I have my theories, I don’t actually know why we love vampire detectives so much. But I’m sure as heck not complaining. And I hope that adding Richmond and Mary to the pantheon makes you swoon, squee and sigh too.

Happy reading!

JM FreyCover Reveal – City By Night
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City By Night on Wattpad

I’m super pleased to announce that my satire novella THE DARK SIDE OF THE GLASS is returning to print as CITY BY NIGHT, published by Short Fuse. The Cover Reveal is on its way, but in the meantime, how would you like to read the first three chapters for free? They will be released one at a time on Wattpad this week, leading up to the October 6th publication date. And if you’ll be at Con-Volution on October 7th, join us for the release party!


This is a story about Mary, number one fan of the hottest cult vampire detective TV show, City by Night…until it becomes all too real.

An accident with the Craft Services truck sends her hurtling into the world of the show, and Mary is thrilled–who wouldn’t want to live alongside their favorite TV characters? Unfortunately, living in TV-land isn’t all that Mary thought it would be. The charm fades when Mary realizes that the extras still don’t speak, the matte paintings don’t become real, and all the infuriating flaws in the writing are just amplified when you have to try to interact with the shallow characters. And then, of course, the lead character Richmond DuNoir falls for her!

Sure, fine, he’s hot…but he’s also a bit, well, poorly written. And his admiration comes with its own set of problems: Antonio, Richmond’s psychotic stalker, has a habit of killing off the girls-of-the-week. Not only is Mary disillusioned with what she thought was a lush world until she had to try to maneuver in it, now she’s about to be murdered by one of the stupidest clichés in the history of television in a world that, pardon the pun, totally sucks.

A loving satire of the Toronto film industry, vampire-cop television, and what it really means to be a “fan” from award-winning science fiction author J.M. Frey.


READ THE FREE PREVIEW ON WATTPAD | PREORDER THE NOVELLA ON AMAZON


Chapter One : Concerning Rabbit Holes and All That

When Mary comes to, she is lying face down in the grass beside the road.

Her first conscious thought, beyond Ow ow ow, is How long have I been lying here? Followed closely by Ouch and Am I really so unimportant that nobody has helped me? and Ouch and Where am I? Followed again by Ouch as she tries to get her hands under her shoulders and push herself onto her knees.

Rain has pooled in her upturned left ear. Her toes are frozen. Everything aches. Her head throbs. Her knees and her palms burn. Her left arm and left leg are bleeding, both from jagged gashes right above the joint that look way, way grosser than anything she’s ever seen people sporting after a visit to the Effects Makeup trailer. There’s grit in the long cut, and when Mary flexes her fingers, she can feel the sickening grind of grains of dust against her muscles. It feels disgusting, the way that frogs squashed by a little boy’s shoe is disgusting, with that sort of oozing pop.

The Craft Services van that hit her is nowhere to be seen. The studio is gone, too, even though she was pretty sure she hadn’t run that far. Something warm and salty stings her left eye.

She’s on a street she doesn’t recognize, at night, with streetlamps that only mostly work. They cast an amber glow over the glistening pavement, so perfectly moody that it looks like something out of a cinematographer’s wet dream. There’s grass between the sidewalk and the road, and it’s wet from a storm that must have passed over her while she was unconscious, if her wet hair and ear are anything to go by. The air smells of…nothing.

Nothing at all. For reasons Mary can’t fathom—reasons which make her heart beat faster, her shoulders ratchet up to her ears—this unnerves her. It’s unnatural.

There’s no one on the barren street. It’s a strangely harmonious mix of residential and storefronts made out of the converted ground floors of houses, all dark and closed up for the night. There is, by some strange cosmic luck, or fate, or universal synergy, a phone booth less than a block away, on the corner. Mary hasn’t seen a phone booth in years, but she doesn’t own a cellular phone herself because she never wanted to be distracted at work. She hates her coworkers when they tap away with their thumbs, instead of paying attention to who is going in and out of the studio gate like they’re being paid to do.

It takes Mary a few minutes to get upright. She is reminded unpleasantly of the cliché about the wounded gazelle on the Serengeti: weak and tottering, but too afraid of attracting the wrong attention to bleat for help. Her head throbs again, and then a very stupid realization bubbles up to the surface of her muzzy brain: she is alone.

Totally alone.

There is no one on the street. There doesn’t even seem to be anyone in the houses. The Craft Services van driver, her boss, and her co-workers have all just abandoned her, left her for dead on the side of the road. Clearly, nobody came after her. Nobody even stopped to make sure she was alive, as far as she can tell.

That says a lot more about how they think of her than Mr. Geary’s horrible insults about her scripts. The ungrateful…jerky jerks! Mary thinks, clutching at the gash on her arm.

She has given City By Night two goddamned years of her life. She just wants the show to love her in return. Is that so very much to ask?

Apparently, it is.

Anger fuels her enough to get her over to the phone booth, helps her exchange pain for momentum. Clutching at the scarred metal frame of the door to stay upright, she stares in stupid incomprehension at the coin slot for a second. Her left hand dips unconsciously into her empty pocket, which is its own sort of special agony. She nearly cries when she realizes she has no quarters. It takes her a few more fuzzy, swimming moments to realize she can probably make emergency calls for free. Hopeful, she fumbles up the handset and dials zero. The operator—female and far too perky for Mary’s dark frame of mind—comes on and asks what she needs or where she would like to be connected. “I need help,” Mary says into the handset. She can practically hear the operator frowning, because, duh, why else would she be talking to one? “I was…I think I was hit by a car. A van. Whatever.”

“Holy sugar!” the operator says, all professionalism thrown out the window. Mary wonders if the operator calls her husband punkin. “Stay where you are, ma’am. We’re tracing the call and an ambulance is on the way.”

Mary winces; she’s too young to be called “ma’am” just yet, and it’s another dig at her self-esteem that she really does not need today. It’s pretty thoroughly dug already.

“Thanks,” she says, and lets the handset clatter out of her grip, relieved because it was pressing into her road burn. She slumps down the side of the phone booth to wait. She folds bruised elbows over bruised knees and rests her head back against the Plexiglass and tries to stay awake. She read that you’re not supposed to go to sleep if you’ve hit your head, and she thinks getting smacked in the skull with a Craft Services van counts. The cord for the phone handset isn’t long enough to reach all the way down to her ear, so she just lets it dangle, detachedly amused by the way the operator’s voice is squawking out at her. She’s pretty sure that she’s probably in shock. She’s also pretty sure that the fact that she’s in shock isn’t supposed to be funny, but she realizes belatedly that she’s giggling all the same.

Hysteria makes Mary drift for a while. She’s aware of closing her eyes, of replaying every time Crispin Okafor winked at her from the back seat of his car, the way she received the cast photo poster after the Season One wrap party, already signed with what she assumed at the time was a personal message. She thinks about how much she threw herself into the show, and how she’s never seemed to notice or care that she has been bouncing off of brick walls.

It’s a sucky thought. She stops giggling and lets herself be sad for a little while.

She might have even cried, but by then, her head is pounding and her whole body is like one stiff, hot rip. She thinks maybe the wetness on her face is tears, but it could also be rain, or blood; it’s hard to keep track, especially when the liquid feels so warm, and her skin is getting so cold.

She wonders if she should be mad for a bit, just to change things up, keep her life interesting until the ambulance arrives, but she isn’t sure whether she should be madder at the crew or herself for being so gullible. That spirals her back down into depressing aching sadness again, so she decides to stay there.

And somewhere in all of that, she thinks she sees Crispin Okafor. Crispin—the damnably beautiful lead actor who knows just the right way to smirk at a paparazzi camera, what angle he should hold his head and shoulders at—is sticking his face into the phone booth. He’s dressed in his costume; that black leather jacket that Richmond DuNoir favors (whose style Mary has copied), in the signature red silk shirt that makes his smoky dark skin take on the depth of velvet, that fake look of honest concern.

“Miss?” he asks softly. “Miss, are you all right?”

“Fuck off, Crispin,” she says back. At least she thinks she says it. It might come out just as a slur. Her mouth feels full of marbles and cotton now, and it’s getting harder and harder to do anything as simple as moistening her lips. Of course, Mary very rarely swears, so it could be that, too.

She feels like this is an appropriate time to start, though.

“Miss, I think you’re pretty badly hurt.”

“Go away,” she says, miserably. “You’re the last person I want to see right now.”

He startles visibly, dark eyes becoming dramatic white spots on his shadowed face. Overdone, she thinks. You’re trying too hard to emote. Retake.

“You know me?” he asks.

“Seriously, I said go away.”

He looks like he wants to argue with her, but cuts himself off, halted by the sudden approaching wail of sirens. The ambulance screeches to a halt beside her, washing the interior of the phone booth red and blue by turns, painting the already pale skin of her arms with deathly tints: blood-red and dead-flesh-blue and back to skin-colored before alternating again. Crispin is gone between flares, melting artistically into the darkness.

Mary’s head starts throbbing worse in the flashing light, and she is pretty sure she’s going to vomit any second now. She wishes Crispin had hung around long enough so she could do it on his goddamned shoes.

KEEP READING

JM FreyCity By Night on Wattpad
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Triptych is Back!

Back by popular demand, my award-winning debut science fiction novel Triptych is returning to Wattpad! Yay! I will be posting a chapter every Tuesday afternoon, until the book is done. I will then be rereleasing the novel as a paperback in the new year, with a brand new cover and some never-before seen in-print extras.

Read the full novel on Wattpad

About the Book:

In the near future, humankind has mastered the arts of peace, tolerance, and acceptance. At least, that’s what we claim. But then they arrive.  Aliens—the last of a dead race. Suffering culture shock of the worst kind, they must take refuge on a world they cannot understand; one which cannot comprehend the scope of their loss.

Taciturn Gwen Pierson and super-geek Basil Grey are Specialists for the Institute—an organization set up to help alien integration into our societies. They take in Kalp, a widower who escaped his dying world with nothing but his own life and the unfinished toy he was making for a child that will never be born.

But on the aliens’ world, family units come in threes, and when Kalp turns to them for comfort, they unintentionally, but happily, find themselves Kalp’s lovers.

And then, aliens—and the Specialists who have been most accepting of them—start dying, picked off by assassins. The people of Earth, it seems, are not quite as tolerant as they proclaim.

JM FreyTriptych is Back!
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The Secret Loves of Geek Girls: Redux

 

The Geek Girls Are Back!

 

A large batch of the contributors at the launch for the original book at Page & Panel. (Me on the far left with)

Contributor Margaret Atwood.

Hope Nicholson, publisher over at Bedside Press and overall fabulous activist and editor, has launched a new Kickstarter Gold project. This follow up book brings back your favourite writer and artists from The Secret Loves of Geek Girls with more true stories of love, sex, and dating from the worlds of fandom!

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls was a collection of comics, prose, and illustrations all on the themes of dating as a geek. The collection was full of stories from comic creators, sci-fi writers, videogame designers, cosplayers, and fans! The stories were a diverse range on different topics from first dates to discovering your sexuality and they’ve touched the hearts of people the world over. And this redux project will be the same!

The Returning Cast

Cover by Jenn Woodall

Each of the creators was featured in the first book, and our returning cast list is:

Cover art:

by Jenn Woodall

Comics by:

Margaret Atwood, Katie West (w/Jamie McKelvie), Trina Robbins (w/Megan Kearney), Janet Hetherington, Meags Fitzgerald, Jenn Woodall, Megan Kearney, ALB, Annie Mok, Erin Cossar, Jazmyn & Jessica Paoli, Sarah Searle, Jen Vaughn

Prose stories by:
J.M. Frey, Stephanie Cooke, Megan Lavey-Heaton, Loretta Jean, Emma Woolley, Adrienne Kress, Hope Nicholson, Cherelle Higgins

Art by:
Deena Pagliarello, Leslie Doyle, Gillian G, Rachael Wells

Excerpt from my tale “Time To Move”

How Do I Get My Copy?

Head over to the Kickstarter page to donate today, or watch Bedside Press for information on purchasing a copy for yourself once the Kickstarter has concluded.

JM FreyThe Secret Loves of Geek Girls: Redux
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