March 23, 2010

Safer Where You Are reviewed in The Link

Good news.  The Link, Concordia's independant newspaper, has printed their review of our second issue.  You can see it on page 14 of this week's issue or online here.

The review is pretty positive, and we'd like to take this opportunity to thank Samantha LeClair, Andrea Davidge, and Alana Newcombe.  They are, respectively, the editor, cover artist, and graphic artist of Here Be Monsters.  They bring a level of polish to the book that we lowly authors could never accomplish.  They are equally responsible for any praise it gets.

Thank you ladies.

Alexander Newcombe, Duane Burry, and Vincent Mackay

March 21, 2010

Spring Cleaning


As I was trying to think of a topic for today's post, I ended up sorting through a lot of my old work.  Like a lot of people, when I procrastinate, I try to do so productively so that I don't feel as bad.  I went in and edited some stories I have no intention of working on again, I reorganized my folders on the computer, and I added a few lines to some extremely stale false starts.  While doing that, I came across this piece that I almost forgot about.  I think it was written about a year and a half ago.  Even though it is just an intro, there's something that I like about it.  Perhaps I'll put some more into it down the road.  For now, I want to show you guys a snapshot of some of my pre-HBM writing.


When I was eleven years old, all I wanted to do was fall in love.  As far as I knew, it was amazing. It involved romance, adventure, struggle, sacrifice, sex, and heart-felt words; it was everything about the world that I craved and had never experienced. Only when in love would you have the opportunity and motivation to say, “I would never let anything hurt you.” I think, in addition to the other perks, I believed that love gave you superhuman powers, allowing you to stop oncoming city buses if your loved one was in their path. 

I tried to find love.  I went to all the school dances and I always asked someone to dance.  I braved the ridicule and glares and spoke to girls outside of the dances, even the ones far too cool to be friends with me.   It was in vain, of course. I turned twelve in the middle of grade seven and remained loveless, even danceless. 
My determination for love saw me alternating between morose dejection and elated excitement. As often as I was let down by the eventual detachment of a girl in my class, I was thrilled by a glance, a genuine laugh, or a small kindness from another.  This over-sensitivity to the changes of fate made me prone to replaying my day in my mind, looking for a clue as to whom my one true love would be.

It became a habit to keep myself occupied while my mind tabulated my luck for the day.  It was frustrating to consciously mull over every small event.  One day, I had wandered into our pantry, where I lifted up our trap door and peered into the crawlspace underneath the house. It was pitch black inside but I could smell the gas from the furnace and slightly rank smell of the dirt and clay.  Still wondering whether Jenny had meant to brush up against me while I was at my locker, I flicked on the light and went down.

I think I was going to have this kid make a tunnel under his house to...somewhere.  I can't remember.  Maybe I'll put him into someone else's story instead of this one.  Like I said, there's something about him that I like.

Alex Newcombe

March 18, 2010

Last Friday night, I realized, admittedly not for the first time, that I was getting old. Not bed-ridden, dispill-carrying old, but old nonetheless, like a budding pot-belly or a longer hangover.
I had endeavored to walk from my place in the Mile-End to downtown, on Bishop, where the launch of our second issue was about to start. A nice walk, in the cool night air that had just begun to fill with the unmistakable aroma of spring - including both wet grass and the yearly crop of turds. To get to Bishop, I decided to cut through the McGill ghetto where it was, of course, Friday night at the residences, which means I met a lot of students at various stages of alcohol, or other, intoxication. And here's exactly what I mean: I presumed they were drunk mostly because they were loud, boisterous, laughing a lot, having an obvious good time, and annoying me to no end.
It's the annoyance that bothered me. Why was I annoyed by people having fun? It made me wonder if maybe I'd forgotten how to have fun like that, how to not care, or maybe it occurred to me that to be like that, to be boisterous and to laugh in exactly that manner requires something that I may have lost: total freedom and having the whole wide world in front of you with the feeling that it will last forever. Not a very original thought, I grant you, but nonetheless kind of dark when it strikes you.
Of course, I then proceeded to go to the launch and have a fabulous time and laugh and maybe I was even a little bit boisterous. So I might not be that old, who knows. My hangovers do last longer, though. I bet they'd still ask me for ID if I asked for a drink in the states. I'll have to go try.
See you all soon.

March 10, 2010

Here Be Monsters on the air

Hello everyone,

We had the good fortune to be interviewed on CKUT this morning.  Ariel talked to us about the book and the upcoming show.  You can click here for the whole segment; we're about three-quarters of the way through that audio file.

Thanks again to Ariel and CKUT!

March 9, 2010

A piece of my story

The second issue is coming out and we worked hard to put it together, but we are all very pleased with it and we hope everyone else is too. We have many goals in mind for what is to come and plenty of ideas. Here be monsters is serving well as a creative outlet and hopefully as an idea machine.
It is entirely possible that we have never explained why we call it here be monsters. The first issue came out around Halloween and we thought, geez hope nobody thinks this is specific to Halloween... because it has nothing to do with monsters. Huh? No monsters (well... not quite, not all the time). The title has to do with that space at the edge of the map. It was the here be monsters on maps used to indicate uncharted territory... It was uncharted in so many ways and our stories are either on the borderline of reality, or even more often completely off the known-reality map... Completely fantastical, for example, mine this time takes place in Montréal. Not many more fantastical places.

Here is an piece of it:

The cold light seemed to burn away what he thought he knew like tiny bits of paper. The solid matrix of his mind had been a well-constructed puzzle when he fell asleep that night. During that night's sleep, however the last piece of the puzzle did not fall into place: rather it flew across the room of his mind and cracked off of the hardwood floor. There it lay. Still within sight. Slowly, it would seem as if that puzzle piece was the centre of his mental Rubik's cube, or was it some other more torturous puzzle box?
Everything he believed until now, or much of it, was a lie. Not a lie constructed by people, nor a conspiracy, nor a plot against him. The deceiver crept within, most parasitic. It knew him intimately. It created things from the void and erased things from plain sight. At some indeterminate point his mind had become his enemy. At that moment he could only conceive that much of what he believed was like seeing the world through the eyes of someone that many would cross the street to avoid. That morning six months ago, it was clear that lenses of another colour than truth had been bolted over his eyes. This colour was a strange orange, an ugly yellow, or green. Something dark, something sickly.
In the first days following his revelation he had found some solace in writing. He had hoped it could be used to rebuild the foundation and eventually to fashion a portcullis to separate the truth from the lies his enemy whispered and showed him.

165 days ago,
The light this morning hurts my eyes and I don't need to tell you why. If you don't know then you won't hear it from me. I know my name. Tsotev. I know my birthday, my age. Not much else over the last few days is certain. Time and memories have blurred. My vision also, from the pain in my head.
Where and what I studied is anyone's guess; where my parents, or any other family, reside is as clear to me as a steaming pile of dung. It is also just as hard to ignore. I feel like a beetle, but not a musician. Clearly, I did not study necrogenesis theory. And the memories of a scholar exploring metaphysics or the elements and manifestations of other dimensions are delusions. My memories place me in multiple academic settings, and I have a diploma on my wall. Strangely, I do not feel like I am the type to hang my diploma on my wall. I do not remember studying geopolitical economics. My brain feels like it is frozen and being chopped, and bounced about in a blender. Since my moment of lucidity, I am tormented by a light behind my eyes. Whenever I close them I see it: a small florescent point of white on ink-black silk. It is a curtain hung at the front of my skull anchored in flesh and bone.


March 6, 2010

Preview of Alexander Newcombe's "The Spark Gap Blog"

The release of our second issue is just around the corner and inside it you'll find this story.  The Spark Gap Blog is written as a series of blog posts by a blogger/reporter named Christopher Bartley.  He spends a few weeks in Steel Hawk, an (almost) abandoned mining town in British Columbia.  This excerpt takes place a few days after he arrives.

Night Out in the Ghost Town           

Perhaps I hadn't adjusted to the early schedule of Steel Hawk yet, or maybe it was an aversion to curling up in my insect-ridden house, but I didn't feel like going to sleep after I left Ed's hydro plant.  I began walking down the main road, towards the town's entrance.  Occasionally I would see a house with a few lights on, or hear the sounds of never-ending home repairs, but the streets at night really bring the “ghost” out in ghost town.  I was jumping at rustling trees and animal noises more than I'd like to admit.  Eventually, I heard a large group of people talking.  And not just talking; laughing, shouting, and swearing.  I wasn't sure at first, but once I heard the undercurrent of music in the mix, I knew I had stumbled onto a bar.  It was right on the edge of town, in a building older than my new house by a decade or two.  The original sign hanging from the low roof had been removed and was replaced with cut sheet-metal letters that spelled out “The Company”.

I needed to find out what people did for fun at some point, so I went in.  Perhaps it wasn't only unyielding professionalism that led me inside, but I promised to keep myself standing long enough to get a feel for the night life of Steel Hawk.  I'm not sure what I expected.  Perhaps a rowdy saloon, with bottles getting broken over skulls every few minutes; maybe a wild pleasure-den on the fringes of civilization, where any vice was welcomed.  In fact, The Company was mostly like any busy local pub, with a little saloon and pleasure-den thrown in.  It was clean enough not to be unsettling, but it wore its shabbiness with comfort.  A jukebox (the kind with CDs), played classic songs while the patrons ignored it.  It was mostly men, sitting around tables in the centre of the bar talking and laughing.  And smoking.  Having lived without smoke in bars for my legal life, it was a shock to walk in and nearly choke on the heavy grey cloud that seemed to be as permanent as the tacky brass lamp shades.  Not all of it was tobacco either.  There was a group in a booth to the side that were sedately smoking well-rolled joints.  I went to the bar, but before I could give the bartender my patented “I need a drink badly” look, he began shouting at a man sitting on one of the bar stools.  The shouting went back and forth, all the eyes on the bar turned to the action, voluntarily or not, and the bartender's swearing reached a crescendo.  The man at the bar raised his hand, it wasn't quite a punch, but it wasn't a harmless gesture either.  The bartender slapped his hand down and then shoved his other hand into the man's face.  The (apparently very drunk) customer toppled off the stool but continued swearing.  The bartender was circling around the bar, still fuming.  By this point, others were working to get the drunk up and hold the furious bartender back.  They dumped the confused man in a heap outside the door and worked at cooling off the bartender.  I heard one guy say, “It's okay Fergie, just keep him dry for a few days and he'll come around.”  By the time Fergie was back to the other side of the bar to serve drinks, the place had gone back to normal and good-natured talk was jostling with the music again.

I waited for the bartender to settle and then leaned over the bar.  “Hey there, could I get a rum and coke?” I asked.

“Just rum okay?”

I didn't like guessing wrong, and I wanted something that I could sip for a while.  The bartender sounded gracious, as if he regretted being short on supplies.  I ordered a bottle of beer and it came in plain brown glass with no label.  I was deciding whether to pay then or wait, but he left and served someone else, saving me from another gaffe.  
I was nervous.   Most of my reporting involves reading websites, sending emails, and doing short interviews over Skype.  It is rare that I have to use anything like social grace.  I listened to a Johnny Cash song until it finished, trying to look comfortable on my own.  At the same moment that I started feeling ridiculous, one of the few women in the bar approached me.  
She was younger than me, with straight black hair and light copper skin.  She was wearing a flashy black camisole that would have been in fashion back in Van and looked haut-couture here.  She also had a simple hemp bracelet on, the kind of thing you'd see at any flea market or street vendor.  She smiled and struck up a conversation right away.  No pretence, no tricks, just straight-up, “Hi, how are you?”  We went through small-talk.  I imagined that her interest was solely based on me being the new guy in town.  I'd heard that in isolated places like this, the smell of the outside world is better than any cologne.  I felt confident and began to flirt.  Soon, the conversation turned to when I was planning on leaving the bar.  I made an effort to evaluate the perks of leaving with my need to stay and learn more.  As I evaluated, I happened to look the young woman up and down, and my eye caught on the hemp bracelet again.  I looked around, and, sure enough, every other woman at the bar had a similar bracelet on.  I finally caught on to what I'm sure you have already gathered.  I asked the woman what she did for work and she said she worked in the rooms next door.  That helped my rational mind make the case for staying and doing more actual work.  At first, Caroline (the woman), was confused by my renewed interest in mere conversation, but after I offered to pick up her drinks, she was happy to talk more.  She was one of Steel Hawk's part-time prostitutes (she was also a house painter and a hairdresser).  The bracelets were a signal to the men that they were working.  Since they had to come to the same bar and see the same people when they wanted to relax, they needed a way to be off-limits.  I don't think she was trying to entrap me when she invited me out with her.  She had just become so used to the system that she forgot that an outsider wouldn't understand that he was being hit on professionally.

Caroline drifted away after finishing her drink.  She was immediately replaced by a tall man in his thirties, with a clean plaid shirt open over a white tee and nice, if worn, jeans.  He shook hands with me and introduced himself as Jake.  I checked his wrist for a bracelet as he pulled his hand back.  No reason to assume otherwise, I figured.  My reality check with Caroline reminded me that people don't usually chat with strangers at a bar because they don't want something from them.  Since Jake wasn't here to proposition me, I kept an eye out for whatever he was looking for.