REVIEW: Debris by Kevin Hardcastle

REVIEW: Debris by Kevin Hardcastle

DEBRIS: Stories

Kevin Hardcastle


$15.95 trade paper, available now


The Publisher Says: The eleven remarkable stories in Kevin Hardcastle’s debut Debris introduce an authentic new voice. Written in a lean and muscular style and brimming with both violence and compassion, these stories unflinchingly explore the lives of those — MMA fighters, the institutionalized, small-town criminals — who exist on the fringes of society, unveiling the blood and guts and beauty of life in our flyover regions.


Review by Richard Derus: Another debut collection for a Canadian writer! It seems I have an affinity for CanLit, doesn’t it. Hardcastle, like last month’s reviewee Kris Bertin, was well-published in prestigious venues before this book was collected. This collection won the 2016 Trillium Prize, which is awarded to a book by an Anglophone Ontario writer (a separate prize, Prix Trillium, is presented to a Francophone Ontario writer). It’s not only a prestigious award, it’s lucrative, carrying a purse with $20,000 in it! The publisher receives a publicity budget boost of $2,500 as well. Les Canadiens, they know how to do literature right, eh? Without further ado, we shall proceed to the eleven stories Hardcastle and Biblioasis have given us:

Old Man Marchuk starts the reader off at 90mph down the road Hardcastle has us pointed down. Constable Hoye, from Canada’s eastern half, gets a call from prairie town local Marchuk to come to the scene of a shooting–one he’s just committed. Two boys burgled his barn and he shot them, then called to report it so someone would come clean his mess up. Hoye sees to it he stands trial and thereby becomes a pariah. He and his pregnant wife, later his newborn son as well, live in a state of siege. Old man Marchuk’s relatives and friends harass the man, escalating their violence until he surprises them all with a surprise raid that scatters the malefactors. But he, Jenny, and their new baby are stuck there but still aren’t safe…can’t transfer out for “one year, three months, and eighteen days.” Bone chilling.

The Rope really did a number on me. Matthew comes home to help his mother Maryanna after she has her license revoked for one too many impaired driving stops. Booze is her sole companion and always was. Her life is ruled by her addiction and she has no interest in or intention of changing that. Matthew does everything he can but, in the end, Maryanna has to hit rock bottom in spectacular fashion and decide from there where she wants to end up. A harrowing look in a full-length mirror for me. Unsettling.

Montana Border  has us riding along with Daniel, a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter on the deep backwoods circuit. He wins, loses, bleeds, and suffers while doing the one thing he knows how to do: fight. Like all Hardcastle’s men, he has no way to conceive of a life without violence. Daniel wins one victory too many and comes under fire…literally…from the defeated and injured man’s biker friends. A good man in his way, Daniel is one of the men the world doesn’t need and he knows it. He is in a struggle all the way from cradle to grave and it seems as though he doesn’t much mind what side of the dirt he’s on. Bleak and beautiful.

To Have to Wait has us riding along with Paul and Matthew while they drive from their small Eastern hometown to retrieve their father from his stay in a coastal public mental health facility. (This is how you know the story is set in Canada, there’s a public mental health facility.) While taking a pit stop on the road a conflict arises and is resolved with coordinated violence from the brothers. They proceed to pick the old man up, bring him home, and sit down to a family dinner. Honestly this is the only story in the collection where the violence wasn’t well used. It felt to me as though the author said, “whoops there’s no fighting in this one,” picked up his quill, dipped it in blood, and rectified that. Not my favorite story.

Bandits begins with a weird coming-of-age ritual: father, son, and extended (male) family out snowmobiling across a frozen lake to go shoot the hell out of the local police chief’s ice-bound boathouse. Ah, thought I, we’re back into the Hardcastle groove! And are we ever. The family business here is banditry, organized by Charlie’s pa, a small-time crook whose oversized personality and massive musculature make him impossible for his son, his brothers, and his nephew to disobey him. It’s a very clever business centered on the weather. They don’t pull heists unless it’s snowing or about to snow so they can’t be tracked by their machine’s traces. The local constabulary knows the family is behind the thefts as you do in a small community but can prove nothing. Not to say they’ll quit trying, but they’re up against a smart opponent with a tight crew. But all good things must come to an end, and Charlie faces some high hurdles on his path to adult responsibility. This is a cracking good yarn, exciting and moving in equal measure. A noir film waiting to be made.

One We Could Stand to Lose follows Arthur, the night manager of a rundown resort hotel-cum-casino that was once glamourous indeed and is now a blight, a flophouse and a hotspot for violence and murder. He also happens to have a very interesting side business that makes his position extra appealing, one that’s highly illegal and could not be more perfectly disguised by his job. The old glory days don’t haunt Arthur. He lives in the hotel, works in the hotel, breaks the law in the hotel, and until the owner decides it’s time to demolish the hotel, Arthur can’t be bothered to dredge up his memories. He supervises the dismantling and preparation for detonating the place he’s lived for more than fifty years while numb, disbelieving, unsure of what he should think or feel. In the end he makes the only decision that he could possibly make, however painful it is, as there is no alternative. Outstanding, the best in the collection.

Spread Low on the Fields is a score-to-settle homecoming story in the vein of Walking Tall. Sean O’Hara comes home to bury his retired father after he is murdered by a fellow retiree and old friend. The murderer can’t stand trial because he has dementia. Sean can’t accept that his father’s death seemingly counts for so little and sets out to even the scales. Haunting.

Hunted by Coyotes brings us into the world of the door-to-door scammer/salesman. Those desperate souls who fall into the work when there is nothing else for them to do and then have trouble climbing out of the pit. Road trips to small places, working the poor and the gullible with promises of saving them money. You wonder how these people can look themselves in the mirror? They’re in the same boat as their marks! Everyone for themselves. It’s a chilling and disturbing peek into a life I’m deeply glad not to know firsthand. I have one minor complaint: The coyotes of the title appear, but do nothing to advance the plot. I expected some kind of non-symbolic role for them based on the title, and got none of that.

Shape of a Sitting Man is another brother/revenge story. The bond of love between brothers is a major subtext in this collection. It’s nowhere more explicit than it is here. A younger brother takes out his older brother’s assailant who left him permanently damaged, unable to function. We’re not told how or why, because who cares? It’s a brother’s duty to stand up for his family when harm has been done, and by god the kid does it. Tight, compact, direct.

Debris works the small-town no-secrets vein again, but does so in a delightfully twisty way. It starts from the first line: “Come pale morning the old woman found a greycoat squirrel drifting dead in the swimming pool waters.” That grabbed my nosehairs hard. Eyes still watering, I followed the story of the town’s known miscreant from a family of them that has murder as its stakes. Very seldom do I say this, but this story is crying out to be a novel. There is a wonderful thriller in this thrilling but too short tale of an elderly couple savoring their togetherness while aging as gracefully as they can. Being country folks, they’re very clear on how to survive independent of help when possible but sensible enough to know when to call out the cavalry. The first murder brings the local constable to their door, and as events unfold brings him and his cronies back to follow up a lead the old woman has given them to the whereabouts of the local bad seed. Again stymied by the absence of hard evidence linking the bad seed to the crimes, the constabulary back off. And that’s when the country folk sense of justice stands tall. I loved this gem of a tale.

Most of the Houses Had Lost Their Lights charts the troubled course of Kayla’s marriage to Matthew, a man losing his battle with his demons. Kayla is compelled to commit him to a public psychiatric facility (I love Canada’s social safety net) or see him go to prison for assaulting fellow tavern patrons, one of whom ended up embedded in a wall. Her husband absent for the moment, she sets out to keep body and soul housed, fed, and clothed for herself. Being a strong and intelligent woman, she does exactly that. She works hard at a job where she’s the only woman on the shop floor. She fetches Matthew home when he is released and hears words I imagine any spouse would want to hear: “You did everything right,” he said. Deeply satisfying.

Kevin Hardcastle’s Trillium Award-winning collection also does everything right. No less a luminary than John Irving praises his use of language as “a soothing balm for the pain” that his characters suffer. I concur, and I am reaffirmed in my conviction that CanLit is unfairly neglected here in the USA. There is no shortage of exciting top-quality work in every genre coming south. I really hope that more and more of us will cotton on to this fact and make noise about it. We can all only benefit from increasing awareness of the riches flowing South. Start here! Kevin Hardcastle deserves your immediate attention.


Richard Derus (aka @ExpendableMudge) is a biblioholic, a tsundoku carrier, and a passionate reader. From underneath his tottering towers of unread tomes, he writes obsessively about his darlings at Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud, where many otherwise unknown books are praised, panned, or poked fun at; Entropy Magazine; The Small Press Book Review; Shelf Inflicted (where he was a founding blogger); and Medium.

Freelance Writing Services

Freelance Writing Services

Freelance Writing Services


Over the years, I have dabbled in many different forms of writing, from songs to prose to poetry. Often I am asked, “Why don’t you do this professionally?” I have concocted a myriad of excuses when asked this question. Recently, though, I realized that the question is far more important than the excuses…why don’t I do this professionally? So here I am.

Do you have a poem you need written to impress that special someone? A research assignment that you just don’t have time for at school or work? A proposal that could generate you business but keeps getting put on the back burner? A story to tell your kids at the campfire? Whether for personal or professional use, I would extend you an offer of my services. I am versed in many forms of poetry, proficient at a variety of technical and prose writing methods pertinent to both academia and the business world, and I am an accomplished storyteller in a wide range of genres and mediums.

I offer a reasonable hourly rate but would be willing to work with people on a budget on a per-project basis. All work would be guaranteed authentic original material, created based off your specific needs and requests. If applicable, I am proficient at citing and referencing in all accepted standard forms.

Examples of my work can be found on my blog ( Some of my favorite selections include:


Delicate Colors –

Worth –

Necklace of Earth –


Writing to Be Heard –

The Music That Moves You –


The Wind –

Painfully Awake –


Unveiling a Culture –

Guns and Sexism –


So go have some fun this weekend instead of worrying about that project or paper. I’ve got you covered. Feel free to email me at for specifics.


~ Jeff Martin

Rock Eel Cafe – Picnic on the Plain Part 2

Rock Eel Cafe – Picnic on the Plain Part 2

Rock Eel Café – Picnic on the Plain Part 2 (Episode 4)


By Matt Weilert


picnic on the plain part 2





Basil and Saffron’s tour of Iceland’s landmarks

crests with a Picnic at Þingvellir.


I: Recognizing y.o.u.r. Landscape as a Map for Living

Saffron greets her breakfast companion with a smile. In-between bites of kleina pastry she exclaims, “Basil, this trip is such a dream, I scarcely have words to thank you. The mountain bikes, the spa, the children’s Mass, I’ve never experienced something so touching before. The dinner—the rooms!

“It’s all so lovely it takes my breath away.”

“Well, how about a good morning hug?” Basil invites.

They embrace.

“Food for thought, pardon the pun.” Basil begins. “Today’s major event is the picnic at Þingvellir so consider making it a light breakfast.” he  advises.

“Brambleberry waffles, here I come!” Saffron exclaims in reply.

Continue reading “Rock Eel Cafe – Picnic on the Plain Part 2”

The Path to Spirituality: Part 4

The Path to Spirituality: Part 4

The Path to Spirituality Pt. 4:

Exploring Ancient Egypt

by Dianna L. Gunn


It might seem strange to jump straight from Wicca to the quite complicated religion(s) of ancient Egypt, but nothing about my spiritual journey has been ordinary. And I didn’t go seeking Egyptian religion—it came to me.

During meditation one day I entered a trance and wrote a single completely unfamiliar word in giant red letters: Akhet. Since I was lucky enough to be exploring spirituality in the internet era, I went to Google to discover the meaning of this strange word.

Akhet is an ancient Egyptian word which symbolizes the horizon. Many people simplify its meaning to “dawn”, but akhet represents both sunrise and sunset. In ancient Egyptian mythology the horizon was guarded by Aker, the double lion, at both dusk and dawn, so the hieroglyph for akhet shows a sun rising between two mountain peaks resting on the backs of this double lion.

I immediately assumed two things: that another horribly traumatic event was about to mar my life, and that the ancient Egyptian gods—for I believe wholeheartedly that there must be gods—might be able to guide me through it.

So I set about trying to learn as much as I could about ancient Egyptian religion. Hunting for anything beyond the most basic information about Egyptian symbols turned out to be a massive challenge. For starters, ancient Egypt was around for a long time—thousands of years, in fact—and in all those years Egyptian religion changed dramatically. Different gods were worshiped in different ways at different times, and during several periods of history ancient Egypt held multiple powerful organized religions.

Of course it’s impossible to actually authentically practice ancient Egyptian religion since we’ve lost a great many of the rituals(and I’m sure many would seem barbaric to most of us anyway), but modern Pagans have created multiple reconstructionist religions, the most popular of which is Kemetic Orthodoxy.

Once again I found myself turned off by the idea of participating in any kind of organized, structured group religion, but I was utterly fascinated by the concepts and the gods of Egyptian religion.

Two Egyptian spiritual concepts resonated deeply with me right away and are still a huge part of my belief system: heka and Netjer.

Heka is the concept of “speaking with intent”. In Egyptian culture words held great spiritual power, and heka was the basis of all prayers and invocations. As a writer I think it’s pretty obvious why the concept of words holding their own spiritual power appealed to me. In my own life I try(and often fail) to only speak with intent, and in my writing I work hard to make sure every single word needs to be there. Heka is also a reminder that our words always have power, even when we aren’t speaking with intent—and it’s when we aren’t speaking with intent that we often do the most damage.

Netjer is the Self-Created One, the source of godhood. Kemetic reconstructionists actually call their gods Names because they are all different aspects of the same divine energy, the Netjer. The different Names are all unique manifestations of the Netjer, so they are called upon for various purposes in different rituals, but they are truly one being.

To me the implications of Netjer are massive. Think about it: what if the Netjer isn’t only the source of the Egyptian gods? What if all of the gods that have ever been worshiped are just different manifestations or interpretations of the same divine energy? What if all of our stories are so different because we as people are so different and therefore must understand the divine in our own unique ways? If we are all partially right and we could acknowledge that each of us must have our own truth, how would the world change?

Over time I’ve come to believe that Netjer is the only real possibility. I don’t think we, as humans, can ever fully comprehend the entirety of the divine. The names we give the gods, the stories we tell about them and the rituals we use to connect with them are all tools that help us connect with the divine and understand parts of it, and that is all we can ever hope to achieve.

This might sound scary to some, but to me it is liberating. It means there’s no reason for me to get angry about other people’s beliefs, because I know they’re just interpreting the divine their own way. It also means I don’t have to spend all my time worrying about whether or not I’m living up to the divine’s ideals, because frankly, I don’t think the divine created us to be perfect. I believe the divine created us to grow and learn, things we couldn’t do if we were perfect. After all, its ability to grow and change is the thing that makes humanity beautiful.

What do you think of the concepts of heka and Netjer? Are you interested in learning more about ancient Egyptian religion? Let me know in the comments section below!

Ask Christa! #2

Ask Christa! #2

Hello all! Welcome back to the next installment of Ask Christa! This will be featured the third Monday of every month. (Delayed this month to due publishing issues with the Oak Wheel. We’ll be back to normal next month!)

Today’s question comes from Minneapolis, MN:

“Dear AskChrista! I sent out my manuscript to an editor and it came back with a TON of suggestions, comments, and corrections. Does this mean I’m a bad writer and a bad storyteller?”

One of my jobs is being an editor. I get paid to find the mistakes in someone else’s story. Do you know what I’m most afraid of? That when the author gets my notes back, it will make him/her want to give up on his/her book.

One of the most important things to realize is a writer WRITES a story and a storyteller CREATES it.

And no, not all authors do both. Some are stronger with writing, some with creating the story.

So when you look through your edits, check to see which area you have more comments about. Is it the grammar, punctuation, word usage, descriptions and scenes (i.e. writing)? Or is it the character creation, the plot, the flow, and the tension (i.e. storytelling)? Once you’ve figured out where your problem areas are, you can focus on each of those. Different classes/courses/workshops target different areas. Some are geared toward writing, like how to structure a novel, others are geared toward storytelling, like how to create realistic characters.

Here’s the tricky part: Be honest with yourself. Really look at the areas that need work and go work on them! Why? Because when you have another story pop into your mind, which most authors tend to do, your next book will flow more smoothly, come more easily, and be written more quickly. You’ll get to enjoy writing and not be so stressed about the edits, which will lessen as you learn.

So please don’t be discouraged by multiple comments/notes from your editor. Learn what you can, be truthful about the areas you need work on, deal with them, and then decide about yourself as an author. Are you a writer, a storyteller, or both?


Have questions about writing, editing, publishing, or marketing?? Just Ask Christa! Message me @cyelkoth (#askchrista) or email me


Christa Yelich-Koth is the co-founder and head of submissions at Buzz & Roar Publishing. She is also the author of science fantasy Eomix Galaxy Books, graphic novel HOLLOW, and the comic book series HOLLOW’S PRISM. She has staffed and led a workshop at the Southern California Writer’s Conference, been a panelist at MiniCon, and was co-founder of Green-Eyed Unicorn Comics. She can be reached at or on twitter @cyelkoth. Her website is

Rock Eel Café – Picnic on the Plain (Episode 3) Part 1

Rock Eel Café – Picnic on the Plain (Episode 3) Part 1

Rock Eel Café – Picnic on the Plain (Episode 3) Part 1


By Matt Weilert



Join us in celebrating 25 years of business fables! 10 July 2016 marks a quarter-century since the first draft of the first business fable sketch, (dated 10 July 1991), that matured into the Blue Two™ saga.

This Season One is such a fun part of the Rock Eel series, I called Jeff to thank him for encouraging my posts. We are storyboarding Season Two now, so if you have ideas you would like to see in “Life, Love and the Lens Room,” send us your word portraits! (Samples of some other B2 series are available at for those interested.)

The most common question we get is “what are business fables” and the second most common is like it: “what are they for?” In some sense, that is almost asking what a child is for or what a sunrise is for. Yes or yes?

However, business fables do have a concrete and bottom-line driven purpose: Over the past 300 months, or 9132 days (to 10 July 2016), the layered story-telling style of risk discovery and resolution has delivered a rolling average of 850x return-on-investment!

When people tell you that is not possible, remember that when our grandparents were born there were no telephones, no automobiles, few cities had electricity, there was no commercial airline service, no automated tellers (ATM), and the list of “impossible things” goes on and on.

So when your friends ask “what are you reading?” and you tell them “business fables” you can answer their next question:

“Business fables are a special class of yarns we spin to mend the rends in our social fabric. These stories reflect back to key players, those myths that keep them (and us!) from achieving optimum results.”

The Blue Two™ series helps us to see over the horizon and see around corners by raising [y]our perspective. By climbing the steps of the lighthouse, [y]our mind & heart climb out of the modern media fog. Investing in yourself with these business fables, you’ll learn:

• how subtle shifts in vantage points can unblock what you’re looking for,
• how understanding the differences between relational speech and transactional speech can accelerate [y]our career(s),
• how to apply the timeless truth that “heart speaks to heart before mind is open to mind.”

So enjoy this 25th anniversary and keep reading!  I’m delighted to present Episode Three: Picnic on the Plain.


Continue reading “Rock Eel Café – Picnic on the Plain (Episode 3) Part 1”

The Path to Spirituality: Part 3 – Wicca

The Path to Spirituality: Part 3 – Wicca

The Path to Spirituality

Pt. 3: Wicca

by Dianna L. Gunn


Like any teenager exploring Paganism pretty much on their own (by twelve I hardly had a relationship with my mother) I explored Wicca first. Right away I knew I didn’t want to become involved with the highly formal, ritualized versions of Wicca. Formal religion and actual churches didn’t appeal to me at all, but many of their beliefs did.

There are actually several denominations of Wicca with varying beliefs and wildly different traditions, but most have a few things in common such as the belief in a god and a goddess who unite to create life. In some traditions this god/goddess has a specific name but others refer to them simply as the god and goddess.

Focusing on both the male and female energy and placing emphasis on their unity mean that Wiccans consider sexuality sacred and the act of sex itself a magical one, which to me always seemed like a much healthier way to approach sex than the approach traditionally taken by Judeo-Christian religions. The earth itself is also considered sacred, and most Wiccans believe in a variety of spirits who inhabit the world.

Wiccans also have a strong belief in the Rule of Three—what you send out into the world will be returned to you threefold—and the Wiccan Rede, which is actually quite a long poem (you can read the whole thing here) but is usually shortened down to the primary rule of “An it harm none, do as thou wilt”. In modern English that’s “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, do what you want”.

I’ll be honest and admit that this primary tenet was the first thing that dissuaded me from pursuing Wicca. As someone who had been severely bullied, watched her parents get divorced and then watched her dad die of cancer, I was rather bitter. I believed wholeheartedly in revenge. I also believed some people absolutely deserved to suffer and even die for the terrible things they had done to other people. And as somebody struggling with undiagnosed mental illness this mentality was partially self defence—I had no way of controlling my own violence, so I had to convince myself it was justified.

Still, I did want to give it a chance. I attended a few events and even a couple group rituals put on by the Wiccan Church of Canada, and while I had fun at the events, I didn’t enjoy the feeling of group ritual. It immediately became clear that Wicca still held a number of the things I disliked about organized religion. No matter how different the energies and traditions were, the Wiccan Church of Canada was still a church. I wanted to practice on my own, by my own rules.

To this day I practice my own brand of Paganism entirely alone and although I do enjoy gathering with Pagans at pub moots and similar social events I stay away from anything with a strict structure. My spirituality refuses to be contained by such a structure and I find the whole experience unsettling, though I can see the appeal—you can definitely feel the difference in energy level when you have two, four, ten or even more people participating in a ritual.

Have you ever done any research on Wicca? Is all of this new to you? Please let me know in the comments section below!