The Year’s Best Canadian Fantasy & Science Fiction Stephen Kotowych Kickstarts a New Anthology

The Year’s Best Canadian Fantasy & Science Fiction

Stephen Kotowych Kickstarts a New Anthology

By Angelique Fawns

Stephen Kotowych is finding the best hidden gems in the Canadian short speculative market and putting them in an anthology for all of us to enjoy. His Kickstarter funded in 45 minutes and closes on Thursday, June 29th.


The Kitchener, Ontario-based Kotowych is no stranger to creating top-notch fiction. He is a winner of Writers of the Future, a two-time finalist for Canada’s Prix Aurora Award, and has been published in numerous anthologies. He shares more of his vision for us.

AF: Tell us about your inspiration for this project and what you will be creating.

SK: It was two factors—seeing how much great Canadian speculative fiction was being written each year, combined with nowhere to find it all in one place—that made me think it was time to put together the kind of anthology I wished was already out there.


For several years, I’ve volunteered to help vet short fiction eligibility for the Aurora Awards, Canada’s national prize for English-language science fiction and fantasy. I really came to appreciate just how many great science fiction and fantasy authors we have in this country and the outstanding short fiction they write every year.


At some point, browsing the Internet, I also realized that while there are several “best of the year” SFF anthologies that come out of the United States—and though they usually include some Canadians (as well as a few other writers from outside the US)—they tend to be filled mainly with American writers. At the same time, I noticed that there is an annual “Best of British” science fiction anthology and that there have been “Best of New Zealand” and “Best of Australia” volumes—but nothing focused just on Canada for nearly a decade.


There was nowhere that Canadian readers or Canadian writers could look to that gathered all the award-calibre stories we produce each year into a single anthology. There was no volume that acted as both a record of the field as it is today and a way to see where the field in Canada is headed tomorrow.


So, with the help of a crowdfunding campaign, I’m putting together the Year’s Best Canadian Fantasy and Science Fiction: Volume One. This anthology will publish 125,000 words of the very best Canadian speculative fiction from 2022. It will include stories from well-known Canadian writers, stories published in major magazines and anthologies, as well as hidden gems that might have been easier to miss because they are from newer authors or because they appeared in smaller magazines or websites. I’m also planning to include at least one translation into English of a story by a French-Canadian writer as an exclusive to this anthology. It doesn’t seem right to call this a “best of Canada” anthology without including at least some work from the Quebec SFF community.


AF: What stories have you already found for the project, and how many more will you be buying with your open call that closes on July 1st?

SK: We’ve already got a stellar lineup of authors who will be included in the anthology, and that list will only grow! So far, we’ve got stories from KT Bryski, Eric Choi, Kate Heartfield, Ai Jiang, Premee Mohamed, Suzan Palumbo, Holly Schofield, Hayden Trenholm, and Peter Watts. 


As for how many more I’ll be buying: it will depend on the length of individual stories, of course, but with 125,000 words to play with, I probably have room to add another 12 to 15 stories. We’re going to have an incredible table of contents!


AF: Any hints for authors hoping to submit?

SK: Well, my first advice is to remember this is a reprint anthology—so your story must have been published in calendar 2022 to be eligible. It must also be some flavour of fantasy or science fiction. The author (or at least one author if a co-written story) should be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident (ex-pat Canadians count, too!)


After that, people should assume I’m aware of the stories by Canadians that appeared in the major US and Canadian genre magazines and websites, so no need to send those.


What I would be especially interested in seeing, however, are any F&SF stories that came out from small magazines, websites, or small press publishers that would be easy to have missed. Same goes for stories that appeared in anthologies. Stories that appeared in markets outside Canada and the United States should also be brought to my attention. And finally, send me F&SF stories written by Canadian authors from whom you wouldn’t typically expect genre stories or that appeared in markets where you wouldn’t typically expect to find genre stories. Someone pointed out a fantasy story written by a capital ‘L’ literary author that appeared in The New Yorker last year—a perfect example of a place I wouldn’t have looked for fantastical fiction and by an author not known for working in genre.


AF: Tell us more about the creation of Ansible Press and your own writer journey.

SK: Ansible Press (named for a faster-than-light means of communication that appears in a lot of science fiction) was my way of dipping my toe into the world of independent publishing. 


I worked for 15 years in the Canadian publishing industry, so I understood what goes into producing a high-quality print volume. Formatting e-books was new to me, but a fun challenge. So, using my skills from my day job, I gathered up a number of my published short stories and put together my own little collection. Since then, I’ve helped some friends and family publish their work through Ansible. Now it will become the home of what I hope will be a long-running annual collection of the year’s best Canadian fantasy and science fiction. 


Because short fiction, even if it’s award-winning and critically acclaimed, has a habit of disappearing. Once the next issue of a magazine is out, or an anthology goes out of print, or (worst of all) a publisher goes under, even the most renowned story can disappear down a black hole. Putting together my own little collection was a way of ensuring that there was at least one place where people could always find some of my stories. A similar impulse is part of why I am putting together the Year’s Best Canadian Fantasy and Science Fiction: Volume One. Because once awards season is over, I still want people to be able to find the best writing done by Canadians in 2022, whether that’s this year or five years from now.


AF: Do you have a day job? How does it influence your writing?

SK: My day job is actually as a freelance business and technology writer! It’s very different from the writing I do with my fiction, but I still find it really interesting. I get to write about a lot of cutting-edge stuff, like AI, cloud computing, cybersecurity, and even cryptocurrency. So, it scratches a bit of the sci-fi itch in me. As for direct influence, I think it has probably made my prose more active and concise—though you might not think so from the length of some of these answers!


AF: How did winning Writers of the Future affect your writing career? 

SK: There was definitely a flurry of activity right after the win: interviews on TV, podcasts, and online media, in particular, come to mind. Plus, we got to do several large book signings. And it put me on the radar of a few editors, for sure. But the most long-lasting thing from WOTF has been the friends and connections I made there, and even after. 


Some of the judges, like Tim Powers, Kevin J Anderson, and Sean Williams—people whose work I had grown up reading!—are now friends. I’ve even had Sean contribute to an anthology I edited. Likewise, the friends I made in my cohort, including Aliette de Bodard and Tony Pi, continue to be great colleagues and collaborators. Plus, there’s a bit of a club of WOTF winners throughout the F&SF writer community. If someone is a past winner, you always have a point of connection with them and something to chat about at conventions. It’s great fun to trade stories about the judges or compare your experience from the workshop week.


AF: What advice do you have for writers beginning their creative journey? What would you tell yourself if you could go back to the first year you started submitting stories?

SK: Run your own race. Writer friends and acquaintances might have success faster than you. Don’t get discouraged. Keep working on your own craft. Persistence is the key to longevity in the field. Some people make a huge splash and then sort of flame out and disappear. But if you stick with it consistently and persistently, eventually, you will find success.


If I could go back and give myself some advice? Make sure you do at least a little creative writing every day, even when (or especially when) life tries to derail you. Writing is a lot like exercise. If you stop, it’s much harder to start again and maintain your gains. 


The big thing that I’ve learned is that I don’t respond well to specific word count goals for the day. If I don’t meet those goals, I tend to feel discouraged and beat myself up. Instead, control the one thing you can control: time. Agree with yourself to sit down and try to write for a certain number of minutes a day. Maybe that’s half an hour. Maybe an hour. Maybe three hours on a weekend. But focus on being present as a writer in that time, getting the butt-in-chair, and not getting distracted. The deal is you have to sit there for the allotted time. You don’t have to write, but you can’t do anything else. The words will come, eventually. 


But don’t stress about how many words exactly you end up getting (or not getting) during each session. They will add up over time until you have a completed story.


You’ll have good days where the words flow, and bad days where it’s pulling teeth. But you know what? When the story is done, you’re not going to be able to tell which words happened on the good days or which ones were from the bad days.  


The other thing is that huge blocks of time are too unstructured and nebulous to me. If I have six hours to write, I get nothing done. But if I limit myself to just 30 minutes, I always want to keep writing once my timer goes off. If I have time, I may let myself. But sometimes, I’ll walk away, still desperate to keep going. Walking away leaves the mental pump primed for the next session, whether later the same day or the next day. Sometimes, at least for me, you have to trick yourself to get the work done.


AF: What’s in the future for Stephen Kotowych?

SK: Too many things! I’m looking forward to wrapping up this Kickstarter at the end of the month, and I’m excited to see where we end up and what stretch goals we can unlock. The book will be out to backers in the early fall of this year. Then it will be available in bookstores and online retailers in time for the Christmas shopping season.


As for my fiction, I have 8 or 10 new short stories I plan to write by the year’s end. I also have plans for a second collection of my short fiction that will gather up everything published since I did my first one. I also need to get back to my podcast, Tesla: The Life and Times, about the life and achievements of inventor Nikola Tesla.


And I would like the Year’s Best Canadian Fantasy and Science Fiction to be an annual series, so I’ll be reading for Volume Two over the rest of this year. People should watch for a Kickstarter for that volume around this time next year.

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