All posts by Brent

Everyone Deserves to be Conned

[Welcome to the return of something new! Once upon a time On Spec posted the editorials from its most recent issue on the website. This served as both a taste of what you might find in the current issue, as well as a chance to spread the editorial message a bit broader. As it happens, below is my editorial for the current issue, which I’m pleased to share with you. If you want to read more of Issue #109 and future issues, you can head over to our Subscription page to learn more. Or pick up individual digital issues through Weightless. Enjoy! – Brent]


Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”—Maya Angelou

As a child I found escape in science fiction and fantasy. That’s not news to anyone who knows me, and it certainly isn’t an uncommon story. I’m sure it’s one many of our readers share. As I got older, and childhood escape turned into teen and then young adult passion for SF, I began to seek out conventions as a place to share my growing passion. And it wasn’t hard; Edmonton already had a going concern when I first arrived, and there were cons I could attend in Calgary and Winnipeg. I was (am) a tabletop gamer as well, which just opened up more opportunities for weekend escapes.

I’m also a white, cis, hetero male. As uncomfortable as it is sometimes to acknowledge, the con scene and gaming and SF landscapes pretty much catered to me.

Flash forward to now. In addition to helping out as an editor for On Spec, I’m also the founder and current Festival Chair for The Pure Speculation Festival ( We started back in 2005 with the best of intentions: create a space for local fans to share their passion for SF and nerd culture. And if you had asked me how we were doing in any of the years from then until 2015, I’d have told you we were doing a great job. While our attendance was never record-shattering, people came back every year and enjoyed themselves. Pure Speculation was a perfectly fine science fiction event. But if you looked around, again, most of the attendees were very much like me.

That wouldn’t change until after the 2015 festival. We had decided to move from Fall to Spring, and chose to take a year off rather than rush a festival together for 2016. This was a great decision for many reasons, not least because it gave me the opportunity to really dig deep on issues surrounding inclusivity and accessibility. After a bunch of uncomfortable reading, and talking with (more listening than talking, actually) folks most impacted by these issues, I had to accept that while I’d had good intentions in the past, my track record for inclusivity was frankly a turd. Not an easy thing to accept, and I didn’t at first. I struggled with the idea that I was somehow to blame in an SF culture that could somehow accept elves and aliens, but passively and actively make itself unsafe for women, people of colour, LGBTQ2S, our Indigenous population—basically, anyone who wasn’t me.

Faced with that, I really had only two choices. Go on as I had, now conscious of the fact that I was part of the problem. Or change and work to be better. (A third option, just shut the festival down and walk away, never occurred to me. I can be stubborn sometimes.)

I chose the second option. Which makes it sound easy, but it was anything but. Turns out it is a lot of work to un-train decades of unconscious bias, especially when I was unaware of most of them (unconscious, after all). Slowly but surely, though, I began to envision a festival that could actually be inclusive, that would welcome all sci-fi nerds regardless of, well, anything.

Vision was one thing. Of course, putting that vision into action was quite another. We made a truckload of changes to how and where we ran things. We moved from a hotel space to a community league hall, which had the twin benefits of cutting costs and giving us a much more intimate space over which we had better control. Plus, almost all the space in the hall is accessible to folks with limited mobility, as well as being wheelchair-accessible. The hall was in an evolving Edmonton neighbourhood we could work with and grow into. We made the festival free to attend, a huge shift for us, but it removed any financial barrier to taking part.

Those are all big changes, but we made small changes as well. We made pronoun stickers available at the registration table for folks to put on their badges so people could know their pronouns without having to ask. We also made conscious choices about moving to more gender-neutral language on our website and in any communication around the festival. We began to program more consciously, making sure we were trying to include marginalized voices on our panels, and not just to talk about their marginalized group. While it hasn’t been ratified yet, going forward there will be a policy that 50% of our panelists need to be from a normally marginalized group.

And we’re not finished there. I’m currently looking into the viability of having ASL interpreters at our panels; a few to start, and eventually all. And if we can’t make that work right away, then we’ll look at setting up speech-to-text displays during panels for those hard of hearing. I’m exploring the possibility of panels in other languages besides English. I’m actively searching out and recruiting potential organizers and board members from the LGBTQ2Sand Indigenous communities, as well as persons of colour, because I want their voices at the table when we’re putting this festival together. Hell, eventually I want one of them to replace me!

That all sounds like a huge amount of work, right? Well here’s the secret that a lot of cons, who like to talk about how hard it is to be inclusive, or claim they can’t find people from marginalized groups to be on their panels and boards, don’t want you to know: once you get over yourself and make the choice to do it, organizing an inclusive event is no harder than organizing one that isn’t. You may be conscious of the work in a way you weren’t before, so it seems more difficult at first. But the work remains the same, whether you’re focused on inclusivity or not.

Let’s look at the most recent WorldCon as an example. I won’t go into all the details, you can find those on the internet with the skilled use of a search engine. But when WorldCon initially announced its lineup of panels and presenters, it was decidedly lacking in… well, people who didn’t look like me. Which the internet, Twitter in particular, was quick to point out. In response, WorldCon organizers tried to claim that they tried to make a more diverse lineup, but they just couldn’t find any diverse panelists. This despite an entire Hugo nominee list packed with diversity, any of which they could have contacted. Twitter was quick to point this out as well, and suggest dozens of alternative presenters besides. To their credit, WorldCon did then revamp their panel schedule, adding many of the folks suggested on Twitter, including previously uninvited Hugo nominees.

(I say to their credit, but I don’t want to go too far with that. If Twitter could supply them with literally dozens of suggestions for diverse programming in a matter of hours, they had no excuse to not have done that work themselves.)

So it remains that the only reason to not be inclusive, to not make your con or your festival or your group or whatever nerdy thing you organize welcoming and safe to as many folks as possible… is because you choose not to. You choose not to examine, acknowledge, and work to set aside the biases which make your convention, event, or group an uncomfortable space for the marginalized.

And if that’s your choice I really don’t know what to say to change your mind.

I know those aren’t the types of events I want to attend anymore. I want different viewpoints, from people who don’t look at the world through my lens. I want to be challenged by sci-fi and fantasy, I want to read and talk about work that pushes me to think and be better. I want to hear the voices forced to be quiet, I want to hear them big and bold and brassy.

And I know that isn’t the kind of event I want to run. Because if I had kept running Pure Speculation the same way as before there is so much I would have missed. I wouldn’t have seen the repeated looks of delight when, to the folks to whom it mattered, they discovered we had pronoun stickers. I wouldn’t have overheard a young girl whisper to her dad, “I want to be a writer like her!” about one of our Guests of Honour (I won’t say which one, as they are all worthy of emulation so it could have been any or all). For that matter, I might not have had a father bring his daughter to the festival in the first place. I wouldn’t have been thanked, repeatedly, for including panels on mental health issues (for which I can take no credit, as both of those came from the community). I would never have seen all the new faces at Pure Spec this year, people who had never come out before but came this year because there was finally a voice like theirs talking about SF, where before there wasn’t.

Usually at the end of a Pure Speculation weekend I am completely drained, physically and emotionally. But because of all the experiences I just mentioned and a bunch more I just don’t have room to talk about, while I was certainly worn down in body my spirit was light. I actually felt really good, and for maybe the second time since I started Pure Speculation, instead of feeling drained I was immediately excited about next year. I felt like we had finally made something close to the vision I had in my head when I started the festival back in 2005, and it felt damn good.

So if you’re around Edmonton next June I hope you’ll join us. You’ll all be welcome.

Story Submissions Open March 1

We will be open to new submissions of short fiction on March 1, 2018. The window will close six weeks after that, and no emailed manuscripts will be accepted.

As usual, we cannot promise a quick turnaround, although we have some new slush readers who have joined us to help with the massive volume of work we receive in that time period. Once a story is short-listed, it will be read, evaluated and discussed by several of the editors before we make the final decisions.

In the meantime, please read the Guidelines for Submission Format carefully and keep it wholly to ensure your story is read. If you have questions about the submission process, please refer to our Submissions FAQ first. If you still have questions they can be sent to

We look forward to your stories, so get typing!

“Casserole Diplomacy” E-book in Alberta Libraries

We are pleased to announce that, thanks to the Alberta government’s generous support of Alberta’s book publishing industry, Tyche Books has told us that  “Casserole Diplomacy and other Stories: an On Spec 25th Anniversary Retrospective” is available as an ebook through public libraries across Alberta!

Check your local library to see how this book can be accessed. For those new to On Spec, “Casserole Diplomacy” is a collection of editor-selected stories to celebrate 25 years of On Spec in Canada.

For more information about the Read Alberta E-book Project, click here.

Submission Update

We’ve been told that some writers tried to submit stories last night within the deadline, or so they thought. However, they found the link to Submittable for Short Fiction had been removed.
It appears that Submittable may have cut off submissions at midnight Eastern time, which left a lot of people out of luck. If you were one of them (and we rely on your honesty!) , please contact us by Friday, Febrary 3 at

Podcasts for Writerly Types

I love winter. Any excuse to stay inside and read a good book is a good excuse, and winter delivers. Cold, snow, biting winds…no thank-you! Give me a comfortable chair, a mug of something hot, and a good book to curl up with any day.

But with Canadian winters providing such an extended period of excuses, there are times (brief, horrifying times) when I don’t have a book at hand. And that’s when I turn to my podcasts about, what else, writing and books. There are a plethora of literature oriented podcasts out there. Whatever the genre you’ll find a podcast or six to entertain and spark your imagination.

For those new to podcasts, I’ve chosen three of my favourites to get you started. Even if you’re a podcast aficionado I hope at least one of these will be new to you, and deliver hours of entertainment. I’ve linked to their websites, but all of these are available through iTunes if you want to subscribe.

WriteReads – WriteReads is “a Canadian book club podcast that will change the world of literature forever.” A bold statement, but given how many books I’ve personally picked up based on their recommendation, they might manage to pull it off. Hosted by Kirt Callahan and Tania Gee and produced in On Spec’s home town of Edmonton, the duo list the books they’ll be reading on their website. Listeners are encouraged read the monthly selections and take part in the discussion. But even if you don’t read along, the podcasts are highly entertaining and informative. There is always something wonderful in listening to passionate people talk about the thing they love, and it’s clear that Kirt and Tania love books. That alone makes it worth listening to, and it’s almost icing on the literary cake that you also get smart critique and great book recommendations.

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff – This crosses the streams for me a little bit, as it could be argued that Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff is primarily a table-top gaming podcast. And while that is the reason I started listening, I think it safe to say you’ll get just as much from the episodes as a writer, even if you never go near a gaming table. Robin D. Laws and Kenneth Hite are both well-published authors as well as game designers. When they discuss role-playing games, what they are really talking about is story construction. And they talk about it so well, you can ignore fussy little details like what media is involved. I highly recommend listening for the wealth of story ideas this podcast generates; you may never run out of inspiration again, especially if your writing tends to the odd and macabre.

Sword & Laser – The longest running of my three suggestions, and with good reason, Sword & Laser is hosted by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt. Each episode features lively discussions about news in the world of sci-fi and fantasy (not always related to literature), interviews with authors, and the podcast also runs an ongoing book club to foster a sense of community. Community building is actually one of the stated goals of the podcast, and they seem to be doing a great job. I recommend tracking down the video episodes when they were part of the Geek & Sundry Network on YouTube and giving those a watch. They had a lot of fun with them, and you can continue to watch snippets of interviews and such on their YouTube channel. Probably the best general-purpose podcast for both staying on top of news in the SF&F world and discussing the books you love.

Okay, that’s three of mine. If you’re new to podcasts I hope this gives you many entertaining hours and leads you on to more. If you’re already immersed in the podcasting world, what are some of your favourite writerly podcasts? Drop them in the comments below.

Subscriber Update

To our subscribers,

Recently we were dismayed to find that Canada Post had returned 30 copies of our Spring 2015 issue, rather than delivering them to the subscribers. It appears to be completely random, and the address labels have absolutely nothing wrong with them, so we are investigating this issue with our mailing service. The copies will be re-posted as soon as possible.
Diane Walton, Editor-in-chief

2015 Alberta Book Awards

Continuing our run of good news: Our friends at Tyche Books have THREE titles in the running for the 2015 Alberta Book Awards Speculative Fiction Book Award . Since the On Spec 25th anniversary anthology “Casserole Diplomacy and Other Stories” is one of those titles, and since “Seeing the Light” by our own Eileen (E.C.) Bell is another, Eileen and Diane  will be at the awards dinner on September 18 to join Tyche for the announcement of the winning book.

For a full list of the nominees, check out the 2015 Alberta Book Awards site. And join us in congratulating all our fellow nominees!

Comes the Dawn

I know the recent Canada Council letdown(s) have hung a pall over doings here at On Spec. We’ve all tried to stay hopeful, “…at dawn, look to the East” and all that. But it does feel like we are due some good news, right?

Well it came. On September 1, our mighty Editor-in-chief Diane Walton announced on Facebook:

Happy to report that On Spec will be receiving funding this year from the Alberta Media Fund, courtesy of the department of Alberta Culture and Tourism. We’ll continue encouraging donors to support our Patreon campaign, to help us sustain the magazine’s future.

This news couldn’t come at a better time. It goes without saying we would like to give a huge thank-you to the Alberta Media Fund and Alberta Culture and Tourism. But we would also like to say thank-you to you, the loyal readers who stuck by the magazine while we figured out how to weather this storm. While the clouds seems to be breaking, we’ll still be sailing a bit more carefully.

But one thing we are happy to announce is that all subscribers who have been patiently waiting for print copies will receive them. As soon as we have the funds in hand, printing and disbursement for the recent issues will commence. We don’t have a firm timeline on that yet, but stay tuned here; as soon as we know, you’ll know.

If, buoyed by this good news, you are looking for something new to read, why not check out our sister magazine Sleuth? We’re really proud to have taken a step in a new direction, and if mystery and suspense is your thing we’d love for you to take that step with us.


Canada Council Update

About this time last year, we at On Spec received the disturbing news that our application for funding from the Canada Council for the Arts during 2015 had been rejected. It was rather stunning, especially accompanied by jury comments about how poor our fiction selections were, and how sloppy the magazine’s production quality had apparently become, in the jury’s opinion.

There is no appeal process, so we did what we could do under the circumstances: severely reduced our production and organizational and staffing costs; depended even more on our volunteers; and tried to increase fundraising efforts with our Patreon campaign. We have managed our dwindling resources very cautiously, and we are grateful to our other granting agencies, the Edmonton Arts Council and the Alberta Media Fund, for their support.

A few weeks ago, we received the news that once again, the Canada Council jury had deemed On Spec unworthy of support in 2016. To add insult to injury, instead of a few vague criticisms, we were provided with a scoresheet, showing our high, low and median scores from this year’s jury, based on the criteria they used for judging. Magazines are judged on: quality of writing, design, marketing and production; ability to identify a target audience and reach readers; quality of the magazine’s administrative and financial management; excellence of content and quality of writing and editorial work; achievement of mandate and editorial vision; and contribution to the development of the practice.

While we certainly cannot argue that we should pay writers more, being told that we don’t demonstrate an ability to identify our target audience, or that we lack a strong editorial mandate, clearly shows that the jury pretty much ignored or discounted everything we had carefully explained in our application, along with the testimonials we provided on the quality of our fiction and our value to the development of the genre in Canadian writing.

Once again, there’s no appealing the decision.

Some hard choices had to be made, and the first is that, starting with our Spring 2015 issue (delayed due to several family emergencies among the members of our senior editorial staff), On Spec will temporarily suspend print production, and be available as a digital magazine only. We trust that, as soon as funds become available, On Spec will be printed for our subscribers, and we appreciate their support. As soon as the issue is available, our subscribers will be informed by email or by letter, and given a means to freely access the digital issue in their preferred format.

In times to come, our marketing and fundraising efforts will increase to the best of our abilities, and we look forward to publishing more excellent fiction and poetry for many years to come.

We are also proud to announce the launch this month, of Sleuth Magazine, a new Canadian digital journal of mystery and suspense. The first issue will be presented at When Words Collide in Calgary.  We hope that Sleuth will fill a niche in much the same way On Spec did, 25 years ago.

Thanks, as always, to all our contributors, subscribers, and donors for their ongoing support.