BWS 10.07.19 report: “Worlds are Made of People” with Leah Bobet

Leah Bobet -- Headshot

Leah Bobet‘s most recent novel, An Inheritance of Ashes, won the Sunburst, Copper Cylinder, and Prix Aurora Awards; her short fiction appears in multiple Year’s Best anthologies. She lives in Toronto, where she picks urban apple trees, builds civic engagement spaces, and pickles basically everything. Visit her at


“Anyone who’s fit somewhere—or notknows “worldbuilding” is a powerful word. We’ll get back to that,” said guest speaker Leah Bobet at our last event.

What is worldbuilding?

As Wikipedia has it, “the process of constructing an imaginary world“—one of the foundations of speculative fiction.

More simply, worldbuilding is your answer to: “How does your story’s universe work?”

Like most how questions, those answers can get really deep—and really cool—really quickly. In this space, we’ll think about what builds story worlds well in three layers, and with a guiding concept: worlds are made of people.

Simple worldbuilding: facts and figures

The first layer is that Wikipedia definition: maps and backstories, simple facts: “Developing an imaginary setting with coherent qualities such as a history, geography, and ecology worldbuilding often involves the creation of maps, a backstory, and people for the world.”

At the very basic level, we’re making decisions about a world’s physicality and starting conditions. The joy of speculative fiction is that anything is possible: with nothing out of reach, you build worlds from the ground up—oxygen, plant life, unicorns if you want.

This doesn’t mean making lists. We’ve set some starting conditions, but we worldbuild when we explore the implications of those choices.

Example: In Game of Thrones, summer and winter can each last years. But Westeros is full of people, plants, and food. Applying systemic worldbuilding awareness means if long summers and winters are true, seeds in Westeros work differently. They must hibernate for years, otherwise the first winter would have wiped plant life out.”

That’s doing the fundamental work of science fiction: taking an idea to its logical conclusions.

Basic worldbuilding isn’t just deciding facts; it’s analyzing and realizing how facts fit together and how, by both being true, those facts generate more facts.

This doesn’t mean putting miles of explanations about geography on the page. This worldbuilding is like an iceberg: 90% of the mass below water, holding up the visible parts and making them feel stable because there’s one well of agreed facts. That feels consistent, and a consistent fantasy world feels more real.

Worlds are made of people

Our basic facts generate more facts, but they also generate human reactions. Lots of decisions are made by characters because of their surroundings; how people react to their circumstances.

There’s a spaceship video game I like, Spacebase DF9. In it, sometimes a spaceship shows up with five people on board and one bed. I have questions.

Yes, that’s saucy, but also serious: characters will react to that situation. How does that one bed affect them? Do they sleep in shifts? Are the crew really cool with touch? What if someone gets sick? In short, how has this tiny society arranged itself to work with or around this limitation?

Societies arrange themselves, at the core, to work with—or transcend—their physical conditions. Societies are lifehacks, built with something to hack. How people react to our generated facts is what makes them more than an atlas for places we’ll never visit.

So step two is applying social awareness: reading our setting as made of systems and generating results for how those systems shape the characters living there.

Constructing everyday worlds

For layer three, we’ll consider how individuals interact with the societies we generate.

In her Brockton Writers Series post, JF Garrard pointed out: “[Worldbuilding] is actually something built into every story because the reader needs to be transported into a world which the writer has built.” I’m going to take that idea another way: Worldbuilding is built into every story, because people are always worldbuilding.

I like books set in Toronto, and when you read thirty stories set in the same place, you internalize how differently thirty authors see the same city block: different landmarks, different moods and memories associated with them. We live in societies, but we also live in subcultures, and for most of us, our societies are an uneasy fit. You can derive a character through finding their relationship to their society.

Carmen Maria Machado addresses this question well in her 2017 Atlantic interview: “Being queer, too, can feel surreal. There’s this sense that you’re seeing things that other people don’t, which I think is true of many groups of people who exist apart from the more culturally dominant perspective.”

We all live in constructed worlds every day. We’re not inventing ecologies and physics, but we walk through a world stuffed with information and, to make sense of it, we edit and explain. When writing a character’s perspective, how we edit and explain is worldbuilding: How does this person’s universe work? How do they, because of their intersectional identities, blind spots, geographies, habits, subcultures, moods, see and filter that objective world we laid down in steps one and two?

This is the worldbuilding that literary fiction does strongly: work like Austin Clarke’s “Four Stations in his Circle” or Emma Donoghue’s Room. How your protagonist sees and what their seeing says about them is worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is a powerful word

Building a world asks you to think in very specific ways:

-questioning your assumptions;

-thinking intersectionally, in systems;

-considering the implications of your choices;

-considering how surroundings shape people;

-taking others’ perspective.

For me, the most rewarding part of writing process is how we can apply it in our lives too, and we build worlds every time we interact with people.

I chose pronouns in this post; it built a world. I cited my queer authors, and authors of colour, crediting their intellectual work and underlining that these ideas are built in community; that builds a world. Having your reading series in a queer bookstore with accessible washrooms and gluten-free tags on the menu is a worldbuilding choice enacted in three-dimensional space.

Worlds are made of people: the reactions to our conditions. When we set good conditions, we can make worldbuilding choices that help more people fit well in the worlds we construct—and that’s a power we don’t need to write to realize.


Stay tuned for information about our next event and features on our upcoming writers! 

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BWS 10.07.19: SK Dyment


SK Dyment is a writer and visual artist. SK has an illustrated blog with The BuzzMag called Inking Quickly, and his humour and illustration work have appeared in Peace Magazine, This Magazine, Briarpatch, Open Road, The Activist, Kick It Over and Fireweed among others. Steel Animalsis is their debut novel.

Ahead of their July 10th appearance, SK Dyment opens up about their debut novel, Steel Animalsis, and their inspirations and journey as a writer.


There doesn’t ever seem to be a queer philosophical adventure fiction category, which is what my debut novel Steel Animals features, so even though people love it in their displays, because the cover design is evocative and pretty, on the shelf it becomes mysterious.

The book is based around a rag-tag group of welder friends, while two of the male friends grew up together and were intimate as teens and as young men. The book definitely has a hot relationship between a young dyke leaning to gender fluid or trans and a bisexual in it, but the plot is more widely around these other events as well. So besides the entertaining story of a bank robber who needs to learn forgiveness not to mention impulse control and not drag her new true love into a plot for revenge, there is a whole secondary event happening, as one of the teen boys has grown up to become a top man in a corrupt construction firm while the other one opposes him.

The issues of loyalty, ethics and moral issues also are themed into the plot, which weaves together with the building of a squirrel-shaped glider and a number of other playful devices and funny events of magical realism. Of course, redemption and salvation are there too, as well as the wildly terrifying and reportedly funny finale, but the loyalty theme is very catalytic and it revolves around a male love relationship while a female love relationship powers a rebuilt vintage motorcycle through the middle. To me, this is queer fiction. The book contains queer people, bisexuals, a straight couple who stray, a gay couple who bring a baby to the New York MOMA, the two hot dykes with their motorcycle romance, and it is really written for readers who are interested in the deeper contemporary questions around relationships and around the problem of corruption as well as those readers simply interested in reading something fun.

My first experiences with publishing things was in the form of cartooning, and editorial-type drawings for magazines. I decided to tackle the novel-length form a few years ago, after I had written smaller articles for student newspapers and had short stories published here and there. I approached it in a different way than some novelists, really like I was going to war at first with the prose. I forced myself to write a set amount every day and to not leave my space until I had produced tangible results and had met my required word count. I used to write with my rollerblades on, and skate around my carpeted apartment, descending the stairs finally sideways at night, one frazzled step at a time, to go rollerblading alone for miles under the moon. So the bare bones of the manuscript was developed in that way.

The influence and purpose behind my narrative voice however, was formed, as mentioned on my website to a very large extent from my experience growing up working in the family bookshop, which I had to do after school. The shop had a massive collection of Western philosophy among other features which speaks about purpose. It was from the philosophy that I developed a sense that people abstracted intellectually on the “art of living a good life” and that the “love of wisdom” was a pursuit, but as I came of age in the 1980’s, I was aware that it was a sexist, racist society that excluded the good life based on arbitrary categories and required LGBT people to be in the closet or be fired and excluded from Canadian government jobs.

As a teenager I had another job as a night cleaner at the Department of Defence, pushing a little cleaning cart from office to office, and so I had actually seen lying next to an eighties-era shredder a list of names of Defence employees who had been reprimanded for overly-out behaviour. This was not fiction. This was a reality that was playing itself out around me while I tried to focus on my own life, and my own sprawling existential questions surrounded by Camus, Foucault, Hegel, Socrates and Plato. So besides the philosophy tomes, which had more questions than answers, I was required to evaluate boxes from people downsizing their libraries of those quickly-devoured paperback books that truly reached out by authors such as Tom Wolfe or Nora Ephron, and in the midst of this I discovered Robert Pirsig who blew my mind.

So I developed a sense, in a true tactile way, of the type of writing that people actually loved-up and grimed-up and shared with friends and that ultimately arrived in boxes for someone unknown stranger to discover, and it wasn’t the dusty philosophy books, the vast collection of military history or even the well-meaning pop-psych books that populated the shop. I told myself that I would some day write a snappy little book that ended up with that grunge effect like that, or at the very least, a debut novel that showed I knew how to write. People are telling me they find it an entertaining romp, which encourages me to write another one.

When I moved to Toronto just a few years ago, I saw the beautiful motorcycles lined up in front of Ryerson University as I sat in a coffee-shop composing essays for an art director in Canadian film who was teaching a course. I saw Ducatis and Harley-Davidson and even a Norton. Cafe racers. And I thought, this is it, if I want people to know I can write things, I’ve got to take that incredible restrained energy from that row of bikes and create a fast-paced novel that could be on the screen. And although I’ve only owned one and only had it for a little while I fancy motorcycles, they are proletarian, use very little fuel and are easily converted, they roar with energy and thrum with animal excitement.

So the next semester I took a course in publishing, and stayed up late in the Ryerson Library self-publishing the first version, which ultimately was re-edited by Inanna. I am very grateful to Inanna Press. And as I write the screenplay, I realize that the sound of a grunge music band such as the Riot Grrls might quite fit nicely as a sort melodic background growl. I did live that era, roamed Seattle and San Francisco and the West Coast as a hitchhiker. So the rebellious power chord strum of grunge and punk rock has a mood-music place in the writing. I’ve recently written a Coles notes style study guide for the book so that it can be taught in an academic setting, because there’s a helluva lot in there, hidden things, secret meanings, little poems, an encrypted code. I wanted my readers to be able to identify cultural references along the way.

Hopefully through the book people sense they  have looked into the interworkings of human relationships and found relevance, and have visited the world of poetic and philosophical abstractions while enjoying an adventure.

So now I continue to write and spend time developing fresh ideas in different forms, and I always come back to these philosophical questions. Why are we here? To cynically damage our beautiful planet, I think not. To enhance the current ways we have to tear down corruption and in the same stroke nurture an egalitarian society? That sounds like the right message to me. Without being a spoiler, the book tries to land in this optimistic place, using magic realism to take things a little past normal but also using the basic magic everyone has in them to shift culture and save everyday lives.


SK Dyment visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, July 10, 2019 at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, starting at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Teddy Syrette, Jenny Yuen, Terri Favro, and guest speaker Leah Bobet who will be exploring word building with a focus on character in her talk, “Worlds are Made of People.”

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BWS 10.07.19: Terri Favro


Terri Favro is the author of four books including “Sputnik’s Children”, a Globe & Mail 100 book, CBC Books top ten book and Quill & Quire best book, shortlisted for the Sunburst Award and optioned for the screen by EntertainmentOne. Terri also collaborates on graphic novels and likes robots, her family and wet, dirty martinis.


I sometimes think that I’m spending my life writing one big story. Every book, essay and short story seems to be about the same things: the Cold War, nuclear bombs, comic books, immigration/emigration, martinis, winemaking, hot rods, Italian-Canadians, Catholic mysticism, epic struggles between good and evil, and sexual obsession. Let’s throw quantum physics in there for good measure.

I often borrow from other stories and reference them in my work. The Proxy Bride is based on one of The Canterbury Tales (The Miller’s Tale) and influenced by classical Italian opera. Once Upon A Time in West Toronto is a retelling of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western “Once Upon a Time in the West”, reimagined in Toronto’s Italian community in the mid-1970s. Sputnik’s Children is based on my favourite “Star Trek” (Original Series) episode, a Harlan Ellison-scripted time travel story that takes Spock, Kirk and Bones back to Depression-era Chicago. Generation Robot: A Century of Science Fiction, Fact, and Speculation is based on my theory that our obsession with robots is tied up with our anxiety about nuclear self-destruction, and references robot stories back to 1950 and earlier.

Right now, I’m writing a sequel to Sputnik’s Children called The Sisters Sputnik. While Sputnik 1 was set in two very similar alternate realities (quantum physics!!!), Sputnik 2 will send my time travelling, comic book writing heroine not only to an alternate timeline (Singularity Savings Time, where vicious time travelling Nazis are trying to change the course of history) but to the past –– 1956, a year before the Sputnik spy satellite was launched. (I forgot to mention that I’m also obsessed with creating alternate histories that seem very close to what we call ‘reality’.)

Here’s a glimpse of Debbie trying to survive the fashion dictates in 1956 as inflicted on her by a sadistic housekeeper for the evil Dr. Time. As much of a garbage fire the world of 2019 seems to be, at least we aren’t expected to wear rubber girdles or douche with Lysol anymore.


From “The Sisters Sputnik” (work in progress):

When I first arrived at Ransomville House, I didn’t know how to fasten a corset hook or pull on a panty girdle or thumb the top of a nylon stocking into a garter snap. Okay, it’s not rocket science, but you can’t just insert your body into these self-inflicted mid-twentieth-century torture devices for the first time without help.

On my first day, the housekeeper, Miss Sexton, gave me a scalding bath, scrubbed my hair with Halo shampoo, patted me dry and dusted me with so much talcum powder that I looked like a naked, damp ghost. She explained that this was to provide enough traction for the rubber girdle to glide over my fleshy bits without getting stuck halfway up my thighs. Sexton claims to have had lots of experience teaching other girls I about the painful lengths you have to go for an hourglass shape.

I joked that she was the Nurse Ratchet of fashion, but of course she didn’t know what I was talking about. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest won’t be published until 1962. Unfortunately the Nurse Ratchet reference was prophetic. Sexton’s fashion sense is only surpassed by her sadism.

All I can say is, fuck Christian Dior and his New Look. Breasts like miniature ballistic missiles. Twenty-four inch waist. You not only have to wear a girdle under those nipped-in cocktail dresses, but under skintight capris and ski pants too. Even though I’m reasonably slim by twenty-first century standards, for the nineteen-fifties I’m a tank, my proportions all wrong for clothing designed for women whose growth was stunted by the Depression and wartime rationing. Armholes are too high, waists are too small, backs too narrow. Even hats don’t fit. I’m a hulking Amazon in a world of malnourished sprites. Sexton believes the best way to solve this problem is with an industrial strength, all-rubber girdle and long-line balconet bra with a little empty puff of air space over each nipple (to allow your breasts to breathe, dear, Sexton explained). Then comes the nylon slip (never allowed to peek out from under the hem of your dress), followed by a petticoat or crinoline. Sexton prefers crinolines because they’re more uncomfortable. Her philosophy is that womanhood equals suffering so I might as well get used to it. And oh, did I mention the sweat guards? Little cotton pads you pin inside your blouse or sweater, under your armpits, because the chemical giants of the nineteen-fifties (DuPont, Hooker and Cyanamid, whose nearby smokestacks stain the air a sickly shade of brownish-yellow) haven’t yet mastered the science of stopping us from sweating altogether. Instead, you mask your ‘B.O.’ (Sexton’s word) with deodorant or cologne before encasing your body in enough non-breathable synthetics so that you’re basically living in your own flop sweat, 24/7.

The fifties is a sweaty decade. Also, a tedious one, if you’re a woman interested in doing anything besides dressing, grooming and abusing yourself with chemicals.

Every night before bed, Sexton spritzes my hair with a semen-like liquid called ‘setting lotion’ and does it up in curlers, covering the whole structure with a chiffon turban. Very Bride of Frankenstein. I have to sleep sitting up on a mountain of pillows so the tiny plastic teeth don’t bite into my scalp. In the morning, she bustles into my room before breakfast to tug out the rollers and brush out the curls, setting everything in place with a mist of Spray Net. The hairspray goes down my throat and up my nose, giving me chronic sinusitis and releasing a fog of Chlorofluorocarbons into the air:

“That stuff is killing the planet, and me,” I cough, even though I know it’ll still be a good forty years before anyone sounds the alarm about CFCs in aerosol sprays destroying the ozone layer.

Sexton sighs: she’s getting used to what she calls my kooky warnings. “Is that what happened to your planet? I’m sure ours will be just fine.”

Periods are managed with giant sanitary napkins the size and texture of loaves of Wonderbread, belted between my legs. I’ve asked for tampons –– I know they exist in this decade, having seen the weirdly sensuous ads for them in Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal. Sexton is aghast at my request, whispering that only married women are allowed to use them or even buy them.

After my period, I’m expected to cleanse myself with something called a ‘douche’. I don’t know what that means until Sexton appears with a rubber bag, hose and bottle of Lysol. She explains that I am supposed to dilute the disinfectant with warm water and pump it up my vagina to freshen myself. I flatly refuse and go to luncheon.

The next thing I remember is I waking up to find myself naked from the waist down and tied hand and foot to the bedstead with Sexton calmly feeding the hose into me. (A non-lethal overdose of sleeping pills in my egg salad sandwich knocked me out long enough for her to immobilize and violate me.)  For your own good dear, Sexton murmurs as the stinging liquid pours out of me onto a bath towel. I sob and curse. I can taste as well as smell the Lysol as it burns its way through me.

Cleansed but still groggy, I’m untied, powdered and forced back into my girdle, garters, stockings, wasp-waisted dress and Cuban heeled pumps.

Only then does Miss Sexton judge me ready for cocktail hour with Dr. Time.


Terri Favro visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, July 10, 2019 at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, starting at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Teddy Syrette, Jenny Yuen, SK Dyment, and guest speaker Leah Bobet who will be exploring word building with a focus on character in her talk, “Worlds are Made of People.”

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BWS 10.07.19: Jenny Yuen


Jenny Yuen is an award-winning news reporter, who covers a wide variety of local, provincial and national stories, and has written for the Toronto Sun, Now Magazine, and CBC Radio. She is a proud poly partner. She lives in Toronto with her family.


While polygamy has been characterized as patriarchal, polyamory – fostering multiple consensual relationships simultaneously – has been known to be feminist. Polyamorous author Jenny Yuen, who has two partners, was quoted in Slutever recently on how polyamory is on the rise in North America and how talking about having multiple loving relations more openly can reduce misconceptions, stigma, and help it gain wider societal acceptance.

This New Book Offers a Fresh Take on Polyamory

Jenny Yuen’s book Polyamorous: Living and Loving More approaches the subject of polyamory with an open-mind, extensive research, and the first-hand experience to back it all up. Troy Michael Bordun talks to the author about jealousy, internet communities, and trust.

 I lived my young adulthood in downtown Toronto. It was the early to mid-2000s and I had friends with diverse backgrounds and interests across the city; yet, when it came to sex and romance, we only knew two possibilities: dating or promiscuity and (serial) monogamy. Then in 2006, the Oxford English Dictionary added the word “polyamory,” and its usage increased as the years went on. In 2017, for example, the fourth most popular Google search related to relationships was “What is a poly relationship?” and “What is an open relationship?” came in sixth. For many Canadians and Americans today, polyamory is simply part of our everyday lives.

In her first book, Polyamorous: Living and Loving More (2018, Dundurn Press), Toronto author and journalist Jenny Yuen shares the stories of dozens of polyamorous Canadians. According to a 2012 study, 4-5% of the country’s population, much like its neighbour to the South, is in some kind of consensual non-monogamous arrangement. Yuen provides the space for some of these folks to discuss their habits, preferences, and struggles. In a highly engaging style, the author articulates just how relevant alternatives to monogamy have become.

What initially struck me while reading Yuen’s book was the sheer quantity of responses from poly Canadians (I’ll follow the book’s usage of “poly” instead of “polyam” or “polya”). During my conversation with the author in October 2018, she mentioned that her own choice to pursue polyamory assisted her in generating so many productive interviews. Like Yuen herself, many are open to talking about their personal lives in the interest of normalizing alternatives to monogamy. Indeed, the first two chapters of the book exclusively detail Yuen’s discovery of and experiences with polyamory. The author also revealed that she offered her participants the opportunity to use just their first name or a pseudonym, because “not everyone has the privilege of being ‘out.’’’

Yuen is clear about the poly privilege. There isn’t a readily available poly starter kit but a few things do help people get going and maintain their partnerships, e.g., financial security, urban living, and a progressive family and community. Many polyamorists use their financial security in order to maintain multiple households, go to expensive kink events, plan a poly vacation with a poly travel agent (yes, this exists), or visit partners in faraway cites – flying across the country and staying in hotels isn’t cheap. Yet Yuen also describes how Facebook has been a vital tool for more local, community-oriented poly hangouts. Groups like Toronto Non-Monogamous BIPOC and Poly Role Models (Philadelphia) try to make events – and thus the lifestyle itself – more accessible. But as rewarding as an online community can be, it remains just that – it’s no substitute for meeting real people.

Further, although the urban lifestyle is preferable for the polyamorist (larger dating pool, bigger community, more events), Yuen ensures that her book highlights rural voices alongside urban ones.

Individuals in rural parts of the country can find ways to connect online and, if fate will allow it, arrangements can be made for a meeting. Amber, a woman who appears in Yuen’s book, was living on a remote island in British Columbia when she found the Vanpoly (Vancouver) group online. There, she met a man and, after a year or two, moved in with him, his wife, her boyfriend, and another housemate who became Amber’s boyfriend too. Now she splits her time between the island and the city. As Yuen writes, with the invention of the internet, “Polyamory suddenly became accessible with one click” for both rural and urban folks. Whether people want to learn more about it or find people to connect with, online access has proved invaluable.

But even with an internet connection, people like Cloud Edwards – a 28-year-old from Nelson, British Columbia (some 800 kilometers from Vancouver) – can still feel isolated. Edwards describes feeling rejected in his small town as most women didn’t want anything to do with a poly man and his poly wife. Polyamorous men often struggle, Yuen tells me, as men “may be the ones who instigate opening up their relationship (if they are in an existing one), but then may find their girlfriend/wife/partner finding their own partner(s) more easily and quickly. And that can lead to jealousy and other problems.” (Of course, this could happen to women in heterosexual relationships, or women and men in same-sex relationships, but Yuen finds that this pattern of struggling hetero men in poly relationships is relatively common.)

Indeed, navigating jealousy is, unsurprisingly, a considerable stumbling block for poly individuals. While Yuen only dedicates one chapter to the subject, navigating, negotiating, and overcoming jealous feelings is a thematic current that runs throughout her study. Rather than shame or condemn the negative feeling, Yuen grants her interviewees the opportunity to examine jealousy and describe ways they’ve been able to overcome it. The author indirectly offers relationship advice here: reading about all these poly folks, we learn that emotional epiphanies, working through it one day at a time, and poly counselling are just some of the options available for those who want to improve a relationship. On starting a poly life, Dr. Oren Amitay perhaps puts it best: “get ready to feel insecure and find ways to handle that.”

In addition to internal pressures within relationships, poly folks are also subjected to stigma and scrutiny from friends, family, co-workers, and the law. Yuen kindly offers her own experiences here. With a British husband, she wondered whether immigration officials would dig into her private life, and further, expressed her concern over whether she and her husband would “be persecuted” because they “chose to structure [their] relationship(s) differently than societal norms.” Yuen notes that her polycule (a romantic network of three or more individuals) consulted judges, criminal and family lawyers to ensure they weren’t breaking any laws, especially regarding the ambiguities around commitment ceremonies and “sanctioning events.” In a particularly insightful chapter, Yuen provides a history of polyamory and the law – an excellent resource for poly folks who want to know more about the risks involved when forming a polycule (in the end, the law doesn’t have too much to say about it or it doesn’t want to bother to enforce existing legislation – in short, polyamory isn’t criminal).

For the most part, Yuen says, those around her and her partners have been accepting of her lifestyle. However, Cory and Kendra from Whitehorse, Yukon, haven’t been so lucky. Yuen dedicates an entire chapter of the book to their story. “We [Kendra and I] had death threats,” Cory reveals. “Literally, I’ve had people tell me they were going to shoot me.” Eventually they fled the North, but these negative experiences hung over their lives like a dark cloud, and they suffered hardships (mental illness, geographical displacement) and consistent relationship problems (break-ups, trust issues).

Cory’s, Kendra’s, and other interviewees’ honesty make Polyamorous what it is: a true to life account of the diversity of sexual and romantic formations. Yuen doesn’t pull any punches, especially when it comes to women’s experiences in poly relationships. As Elisabeth Sheff points out in her 2006 study of poly men, polyamorous relationships still sometimes reproduce typical power relations and gender hierarchies. Yuen and her interviewees note poly trends such as unicorn hunting (a hetero couple searching for a bi-woman) and the one-penis-policy (hetero couple arrangement in which the woman can have other partners as long as they’re not male) as evidence of ongoing sexist behavior. Yuen tells me, “Women who identify as solo poly tend to feel a lot of pressure… because as the single woman coming into a triad, they can sometimes feel like it’s ‘two against one’ when couple privilege comes into play.” In the book, she provides the example of S.J, a woman often sought out as by couples asking her to be their unicorn. According to S.J., unicorn hunters often reproduce partner hierarchies and “ninety percent of the women were not even bi; they’re just trying to please their husbands.” Moreover, after hooking up with a couple, she was twice asked to babysit their children. This kind of treatment suggests that whoever doesn’t respect the monogamous institutions like marriage – in this case, S.J., who has chosen to remain childless – becomes expendable. Yuen concludes, “when everyone in a polycule isn’t treated with respect and honesty, then things go downhill pretty quickly.”

Yuen didn’t aim to write a poly guidebook, nor does she claim to be an expert. She is relatively new to the poly world, but has nevertheless provided an account that touches upon so many key themes and topics in poly communities. Tackling subjects like age, class, marginalized identities (the brief look at Indigenous polyamory is fascinating and important), and poly families, Yuen’s Polyamorous is a timely, necessary book for 2018 and for the future of poly people and relationships. The book’s strength lies in its ability to normalize the diversity of relationships and relationship philosophies.

I closed my interview with Yuen with an inquiry into the future of polyamory. She simply hopes for less stigma, and, in turn, greater acceptance. Yuen continues, “I think everyone should be able to choose who they love and how many they can love without fear of retribution, of losing their job or their children, and without a person invalidating their life choices. Hopefully, with more positive, less sensationalized media coverage, a willingness from poly communities to talk about ‘how it all works’ and dispelling misconceptions, people can better understand why others wish to practice it.” Polyamorous is a valuable step in that direction.


Click here to read more on how polyamory can allow women to set their own boundaries and to choose whom and how many they wish to love without adhering to societal norms. 


Jenny Yuen visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, July 10, 2019 at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, starting at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Teddy Syrette, Terri Favro, SK Dyment, and guest speaker Leah Bobet who will be exploring word building with a focus on character in her talk, “Worlds are Made of People.”


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BWS 10.07.19: Teddy Syrette


Teddy Syrette (Ozhawa Anung Kwe/Yellow Star Woman) is a 2-Spirit Anishnaabe queerdo from Rankin Reserve of Batchewana First Nation. Their short stories and poems have been published in various blog posts, anthologies and washroom stalls. Teddy currently lives in Toronto, but travels around Ontario and Turtle Island as a storyteller, artists and advocate for 2SLGBTQ+ folks. Teddy’s background in social work, theatre and bingo. They enjoy poetry (theirs), pugs (others) and polyamory.

Ahead of their appearance on July 10, Teddy shares a deeply personal essay on living with addiction, depression, and mental health.


Asking for help with addiction can feel shameful and make you question the value of your personhood. Add on the complexity of having ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ and you could feel very insignificant. That is how I feel. Not most times, but many times I feel inadequate. My social media presence can make it seem that on the surface I am, okay. But deep down I’m not. I haven’t been in a while. These feelings haven’t changed since I was a child. As a teenager, I denounced any form of prescribed antidepressants. I didn’t like the way they made feel. Instead of feeling all the feelings all at once, I was left feeling nothing.

Some days I feel nothing. Not the breeze creeping into the room I have sublet, in Toronto’s busy Annex area. I can barely feel the warmth of the sunshine as I sit in the park with a buddy. Everything even tastes bitter. The joy of eating the foods I love and that bring me comfort now taste muted. As a foodie, I should feel more alarmed. But I am not. My brain is coming out of the fog. That’s how it feels. I feel relieved to be out of the darkness that clouds me often. But now I am left with reflecting of my actions and inactions of this recent depressive episode.

This blog is very personal. But mental health and mental illness is personal. Our mental well-being is easier managed by others. Not me. I do my best to cope without a pill. But as someone who has lived with mental illness for almost 18 years, I am becoming open to the idea of more assistance with managing my emotional and mental parts of myself. The one thing that is helpful, is talking to loved ones and friends about how I am feeling. What causes me to be depressed and what helps me clear the fog.

There are folks who don’t understand the daily struggle of living with depression. Some days are better than others. Some days are better, but spent on recovering from the fog. When the good days are really good days, I do my best to spend them doing what I enjoy doing. And not just doing what helps me cope through depressive episodes.

I miss deadlines and don’t respond back to messages. I’m rarely on time and know that I’m not organized. I also don’t ask for help and would rather just crash and burn. That isn’t helpful and I’m aware of it. It is a tug of war, deciding if how I cope is harm reduction or enablism. Substitution of behaviours and avoidance are common themes in my makeup. But if I can account for the misgivings of my actions, why do I continue to make mistakes? Once you acknowledge a cycle of violence or harm, one should do their best to correct or stop it. Sometimes I just watch my situation get worse, like a fire, slowly burning away anything that it touches.

Taking the steps that are needed to get back to feeling worthy is slow and stumbly. Remembering what you do for work and how you get work and how you get to work becomes evident. People waiting to hear back from you are still people. Folks waiting to hear from you are family members, friends, clients and helpers. Don’t take them for granted. They very important people. Ask them for help. Apologize to them. Apologize to yourself and make a plan now, before the fog rolls back in.

Recovery is difficult. But working towards those goals can be so beneficial. They can be life saving. I apologize to those who don’t appreciate this blog. But for those who are also struggling, I feel you. I know how alone and isolating it is when we feel trapped in our mind. Please know that there are others out there who want to help. You just need to want it.


Teddy Syrette visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, July 10, 2019 at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, starting at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Jenny Yuen, Terri Favro, SK Dyment, and guest speaker Leah Bobet who will be exploring the topic, “Worlds are Made of People.”

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Brockton Writers Series 10.07.19

Wednesday, July 10, 2019 – 6:30pm

Brockton Writers Series presents readings by

Teddy Syrette
Jenny Yuen
Terri Favro
SK Dyment

with special guest speaker

Leah Bobet

Glad Day Bookshop

499 Church Street, Toronto

The reading is PWYC (suggested $3-$5) and features a Q&A with the writers afterward. Books and refreshments are available for sale.

The venue is accessible. Please refrain from wearing scents.

Many thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for their support.


And to the Canada Council for the Arts for travel funding!



“Worlds are Made of People”


Leah Bobet -- Headshot

Leah Bobet‘s most recent novel, An Inheritance of Ashes, won the Sunburst, Copper Cylinder, and Prix Aurora Awards; her short fiction appears in multiple Year’s Best anthologies. She lives in Toronto, where she picks urban apple trees, builds civic engagement spaces, and pickles basically everything. Visit her at




Teddy Syrette (Ozhawa Anung Kwe/Yellow Star Woman) is a 2-Spirit Anishnaabe queerdo from Rankin Reserve of Batchewana First Nation. Their short stories and poems have been published in various blog posts, anthologies and washroom stalls. Teddy currently lives in Toronto, but travels around Ontario and Turtle Island as a storyteller, artists and advocate for 2SLGBTQ+ folks. Teddy’s background in social work, theatre and bingo. They enjoy poetry (theirs), pugs (others) and polyamory.



Jenny Yuen is an award-winning news reporter, who covers a wide variety of local, provincial and national stories, and has written for the Toronto Sun, Now Magazine, and CBC Radio. She is a proud poly partner. She lives in Toronto with her family.







Terri Favro is the author of four books including  “Sputnik’s Children”, a Globe & Mail 100 book, CBC Books top ten book and Quill & Quire best book, shortlisted for the Sunburst Award and optioned for the screen by EntertainmentOne. Terri also collaborates on graphic novels and likes robots, her family and wet, dirty martinis. 






WriterPhotoNiceSK Dyment is a writer and visual artist. SK has an illustrated blog with The BuzzMag called Inking Quickly, and his humour and illustration work have appeared in Peace Magazine, This Magazine, Briarpatch, Open Road, The Activist, Kick It Over and Fireweed among others. Steel Animals is their debut novel.




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BWS 08.05.19 report: “Submitting to Literary and Genre Magazines” with Yilin Wang

yilin photo

Yilin Wang is a writer, editor, and translator who lives on the unceded traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam people. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Clarkesworld, Abyss & Apex, carte blanche, Arc Poetry Magazine, Grain, Contemporary Verse 2, LooseLeaf, and other publications. She is an assistant editor for Room Magazine and a former editorial board member for Prism International. 

At our last event, guest speaker Yilin gave us tips on submitting work to literary and genre magazines. She spoke on the topic based on her experiences as a writer and as an editor for various publications.


I want to start by saying that I’m not a huge fan of labeling work as “literary fiction” or “speculative fiction,” because I find that these labels can be limiting and marginalize speculative fiction writers. However, I’ll be using these terms in this blogpost because they can be useful when it comes to describing the submission process for different types of stories.

I hope that the information in this blogpost will be helpful to not only those with an interest in submitting to both literary and speculative fiction publications in North America, but also help encourage those who work for literary journals to consider what they can learn from speculative fiction publications and ways that they can create more space for speculative and genre-bending work.

How are literary and SF magazines different?


Style and content

SF Magazines often have a focus on narratives and plot that engage strongly with speculative elements and/or genre tropes. Some of the publications can be quite niche, publishing work that is specifically second-world fantasy (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) or science fiction (Apex, Asimov’s Science Fiction), whereas literary fiction publications tend to publish a wide range of realistic stories with some speculative work occasionally thrown into the mix. Another unique feature of many SF publications is that they sometimes accept stories up to 8,000 or 10,000+ words, whereas most literary journals tend to prefer much shorter pieces.

Submission process

When it comes to formatting, most SF magazines require all submissions to follow the “Standard Manuscript Format,” which is actually not “standard” because many literary journals have their own unique formatting guidelines instead. SFF magazines rarely take simultaneous submissions, whereas many literary journals do, which is important to keep in mind. Some SFF magazines have a very fast response time (e.g. Clarkesworld is famous for sending rejection letters in two days), although most SF and literary magazines respond to submissions within a few months.


Canadian literary journals tend to have varying pay rates that are partially influenced by grant requirements. On the other hand, the pay for SF magazines is heavily influenced by standards set out by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). The minimum pay rate set out by SFWA is currently 6 cents USD per word, rising to 8 cents per word on Sept 1, 2019. This standard rate allows for equity and transparency in the publication process for writers.

Where can you find publications to submit your work?

Here are a few good sources to consider:

How do you decide where to submit?

I recommend writers submit to publications that are a good fit, that pay writers for their work, and that have published writing and/or writers that they enjoy reading.

Additionally, when deciding whether to submit to literary versus SF publications, here are some questions to consider: 1) To what extent is the story driven by plot elements and conventions of a speculative fiction genre? 2) How speculative is the story? Does it have dragons or is it set in a different world? Or are the speculative elements more symbolic? 3) How much does the story focus on language and experimenting with literary elements?

As a queer woman of color, I also recommend that writers from underrepresented backgrounds examine the publication carefully in terms of diversity and representation. It’s important to go beyond statements saying a publication is diverse. Check for awareness of subconscious bias in the publication’s mandate and submission calls. See who is on the masthead and who the publication has featured in the past. Look for transparency in terms of the publication’s editorial process and submission guidelines.

Finally, here are my top four tips for anyone who wishes to submit to literary and/or SF publications: 

  1. Send out your work to many publications. Don’t self-reject and don’t stop submitting your work after a few rejections.
  2. Read and follow submission calls carefully. Make sure to follow any formatting guidelines and check that you fit any demographic requirements for submitting.
  3. Be honest with yourself about whether your piece is a good “fit” for the publication. Can you really see your work appearing in this publication? Have they published work similar to yours before or expressed a desire to?
  4. Keep your cover letter short and concise. Do not explain the meaning or theme of your story or poem, and instead, let the work speak for itself.
  5. Take your time with each piece. Edit it carefully and give it to beta-readers for feedback before you submit. Make sure the work is something you are truly happy with before you send it out into the world.


Stay tuned for information about our next event and features on our upcoming writers! 


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BWS 08.05.19: Doyali Islam

Doyali Islam. Photo by Arden Wray

Doyali Islam‘s brand-new poetry book is heft (McClelland & Stewart, 2019) – a lyrical and innovative collection that the poet describes as a “ledger of tenderness, survival, and risk.” Poems from heft have been published in Kenyon Review Online and Best Canadian Poetry, and have been rendered into film through Visible Poetry Project. Doyali is the poetry editor of Arc Poetry Magazine, and she lives in Toronto. In 2017, she was a guest on CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition.


I wasn’t sure what to write for this blog, so I thought I’d provide a little fun in advance of my May 8th reading! I hope you enjoy this small game!

Poetry Quiz: heft

How to Play: Each of the six images below matches up with one of the six poem excerpts from my new book, heft (McClelland & Stewart, March 2019). Have fun guessing the matches!

ant carrying grain of rice (2)


aries [the ram]



hands and dove

* “because i see / your shadow fatten, tumour-like, i say, look, / silverthorn’s tree. (one autumn we gathered / the fallen, fly-bitten pears to knock down // better fruit.) we walk, and i want to share / what i wish you had known – that love is built / not found”


* “my hairdresser, llisa, / untangles again & again the knot / of one question”


* “so, it traced / the perimeter of its plastic cage, / wondering at the hard unseeable edge, / hurrying to make sense of its enclosure.”


* i admit none of this would matter // if you, father, were not born stubborn ram / and i, libra”


* “& because / when has my dating life ever turned out, / i decide, for once, to be prudent & / selfish – to take this one thing, store it away / for winter, here in this poem, this ledger / of tender”


* “in four directions let the body move / a hand                                 a dove”

Doyali Islam visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, May 8, 2019 at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, starting at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Paul Vermeersch, Andrew Gurza, Andrea Bain, and guest speaker Yilin Wang who will  be giving us guidance on “Submitting to Literary and Genre Magazines.”


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BWS 08.05.19: Andrea Bain


Andrea Bain is an author, podcaster and an on air personality. Her newest project is the funny and insightful podcast Single Girl Problems named after her first book. Most recently she was one of the hosts of the national lifestyle program The Goods on CBC. This two time Canadian Screen Awards nominee has also hosted a number of lifestyle programs including Live Here Buy This (HGTV), Revamped (Slice), and Three Takes (Slice). Her career began in the newsroom at CTV and Global news and she later worked as an entertainment reporter for Reelzchannel (Los Angeles) and HLN’s Showbiz Tonight where she interviewed Hollywood heavyweights like Oprah Winfrey, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese and Madonna.


Ahead of her May 8th appearance, Andrea shares an excerpt from her first book, Single Girl Problems as well as her responses to some commonly asked questions.

Being single sucks! Well that’s what everyone seems to think anyway. In pretty much every culture single women over the age of 28 are seen as lonely, miserable, undesirable crazy cat wranglers. Family members, friends, heck, even my dentist asks, “when are you going to get married?” And if one more person tells me about their third cousin twice removed who met the love of their life online I’m going to take out my weave and eat it.

Last week I picked up my favourite magazine and was shocked to see that they dedicated an entire issue to instructing women on how to draw, drag and hunt men down and once you’ve caught him in your trap they gave further instructions on how to make him propose. Very romantic. Not.

Meanwhile on the other side of the fence the marketing department for married life is knocking it out of the park. And let me tell you it looks awesome, married people go camping, eat dinner, ride bikes and seem to be having the time of their lives at the Sandals resort in Jamaica. The last time I saw a happy single woman in a television ad she was marvelling at how absorbent her new feminine hygiene product was.

I wrote my book “Single Girl Problems” to change the narrative about single women. Being single is not a problem that needs to be solved. Single women today are leading the charge in politics, real estate and consumerism. It’s time to bury the old notion that all single women are sad lonely spinsters. Times have changed, dating has certainly changed and this book takes a real look at how single women are perceived versus the reality of who we really are and what’s really going on in the dating world.


What inspired me to write SGP was a conversation with a woman who told me that I’d be an author one day. Of course I didn’t believe her, but she planted that seed on my mind. Ten years after many relationships and even more conversations about relationships the idea just came to me.


The writing process was easy but challenging, which I know is an oxymoron. Let me explain. It was easy because I felt really connected to what I was writing about. I had be doing tv segments about single lifestyle for awhile plus I had done a lot of research on the topic so I knew what I wanted to say to my readers. The challenging part was jotting down all of my thoughts, facts and anecdotes and not second guessing myself in the process. I’d never written a book before, so at times I felt a bit overwhelmed. In the end it was the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done. When I received the final manuscript from my publisher I spread the pages out all over the floor in my house looked down at my work and yelled, “I have made fire” like Tom Hanks in Castaway. I’m currently working on my second book. It’s fiction and my hope is that it’ll turn into a tv series one day.


I hate this question because I can hear my 13 year old self say crap like, ‘He has to be 6 foot 4, muscular but not too muscular, really nice, straight white teeth, nice butt, come from a good family, know how to dance, smart, drive a nice car’. After dating several idiots guys who fit this criteria I’ve learned that sometimes the mate who is a great match for you may not have everything on your shallow list but may end up being a much better partner than the guy with the bleached white teeth, 6 pack and leased luxury car.


The biggest misconception about single women is that we’re all crazy, neurotic, lonely, unlovable, child hating psychopaths. The truth is we’re only a couple of those things – lol. All jokes aside if you really want to know what society thinks about single women just watch Bridgett Jones Diary. I hate those fucking movies.


Last fall my podcast ‘Single Girl Problems’ hit the airways at EOne. The show is an hour of no holds barred conversations about dating and relationships featuring guests ranging from relationship experts to celebrities and some of the top online influencers.Since its launch in October 2018 the show has gained a very good audience and was recently nominated for Best Adult Podcast by the Canadian Podcast Awards this past January.

If I could talk to my 15 year old self I’d say Girl, don’t cut your own bangs before picture day! No in all seriousness I’d say don’t look for your happiness or validation in a guy. You are enough! Everything you’re going through is teaching you a lesson so pay attention.


The key to enjoying your single life is Self Love. Self love is the key to true happiness. I don’t believe it’s your future partner’s job to make you happy, that’s your responsibility.


I treat it like any other day and keep it moving.

I’ve been taking myself on dates for years. Often my dates include watching foreign films, going to the bookstore, getting a mani pedi and picking up sushi for dinner.

No sugary sweet treats for me I’m a salty bitch.


Andrea Bain visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, May 8, 2019 at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, starting at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Paul Vermeersch, Andrew GurzaDoyali Islam, and guest speaker Yilin Wang who will  be giving us guidance on “Submitting to Literary and Genre Magazines.”

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BWS 08.05.19: Andrew Gurza


Andrew Gurza is a Disability Awareness Consultant and Cripple Content Creator whose written work has been featured in Daily XtraGay Times UKHuffington PostThe AdvocateEveryday, and several anthologies. He has guested on a number of podcasts including Dan Savage’s Savage Love and Cameron Esposito’s Queery. He has spoken all over North America on sex, disability and what it means to be a Queer Cripple. He is also the host of the DisabilityAfterDark: The Podcast Shining a Bright Light on Sex and Disability available on all podcast platforms. You can follow the podcast @disaftdarkpod.  He is also the creator of the viral hashtag #DisabledPeopleAreHot. You can find out more about Andrew here and by connecting with him on Twitter and Instagram @theandrewgurza.

My name is Andrew Gurza, and I am a Disability Awareness Consultant and Cripple Content Creator.  This is a piece I wrote for my blog about the challenges of creating content and pieces of artistic expression around sexuality and disability, and how it can be tough to constantly talk about sexuality and disability, but not be actually seen as a viable sexual partner.


Recently, I helped create a piece of theatre around sex, disability and queerness. It was a tough process where the participants and principal actors were asked to dig into their lives around the intersection of sex, disability and queerness, and share their stories in a theatrical way. It was a harrowing and difficult month long creation process that brought up a lot of feelings for me. My arc in the show was talking about the work I do as a Disability Awareness Consultant; namely presenting to audiences about sex, disability and queerness. In one scene, I am presenting a pretend presentation to the play audience, and as I am talking, I get so frustrated during the presentation that I storm out of the play, leaving the audience to wonder what will happen next.

When we were workshopping this part, the director asked me: “Andrew, what do you feel when you go up there to present about this stuff?” Initially, when he asked me this, I turned on my professional cadence, and told him that I loved presenting to people, and that it was my calling and what I had chosen to do. It was what I wanted.  He looked at me, smiled wryly and said, “Okay.  But, how do you feel about it, Andrew?  Honestly.” I tried again to put this feeling away, and continued to protest that I loved my work, I loved what I had built for myself, and that I got to share a message with people. As I started saying it a second time, though, I stopped myself. I looked at the director square in the face, and with a glimmer of tears in my eyes, I said: “I’m tired.”

That was the first time in over 5 years of being self-employed and self-made as a disabled speaker working in sexuality and disability that I ever admitted that to anyone. As the words tumbled out of my mouth, I felt ashamed and angry. Why was I saying this? Was I saying that I didn’t want to do this anymore? The words kept coming: “I don’t want to present to able-bodied people anymore, so that they can learn about sex and disability through me. I don’t want to play up disability for these people who won’t see me as sexy anyway.” And, sometimes, that’s the truth.

Working in sexuality, disability and queerness is one of the hardest things I have ever done. While I am proud of the people I have met, the presentations that I have given, and the name I have built for myself in this niche market, there are absolutely days where I can’t do it. Days where instead of showing you Powerpoint presentations about how great sex, disability and queerness is, I want to scream out to the group and say, “Does anyone find me sexy?! Would any of you fuck me? Honestly?!” There are days where I have finished a talk, smiled at people, networked, and then I go home alone and bawl my eyes out.

It isn’t easy to turn your stories, things that actually happened to you, into slides for people to make notes about. It isn’t easy to sit there in my wheelchair, staring at all these able-bodied faces of people who probably wouldn’t give me a second look if we met at a bar or on an app. It isn’t easy advocating for real money to tell your stories, when most places want to pay you nothing for your lived experiences.

I tell you this, not because I am going to stop doing what I am doing, but I am telling you all this so that you can begin to understand that when you hire a disabled person to tell their story of rejection, of pain, of hurt; you are asking them to relive the ableism, asking them to confront their fears around it again and again. I tell you this because I want you to understand that making a name for yourself as a disabled advocate – is hard – especially for those of us who have decided to share our feelings around sex and disability. We don’t get paid enough and we certainly don’t get laid enough to do what we do.

So the next time someone with a disability presents about sex, disability, queerness, or any facet of their lived experience for you, know this: we’re tired, we’re angry, we’re horny, and it took every ounce of strength for us not to leave the room. Maybe buy us a drink and flirt with us after…that’d be nice. And maybe instead of just taking notes, take down my number.


Andrew Gurza visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, May 8, 2019 at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, starting at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Paul Vermeersch, Andrea BainDoyali Islam, and guest speaker Yilin Wang who will  be giving us guidance on “Submitting to Literary and Genre Magazines.”

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