Vocamus Press

One of the myriad roles I occupy on any given day is Managing Director of Friends of Vocamus Press, a con-profit community organization that supports Guelph book culture. The title sounds fancy, but it basically means that I’m the guy on the board who has to do the actual work, though there is a new Director of Communications, Sheri Doyle, who is taking on some of my duties, bringing new ideas, generating different kinds of interaction with our community, and generally doing a great job.

It wasn’t easy for me to admit that I needed this kind of help. I prefer to do things myself just to be sure that they get done, and I’ve had some bad experiences where people committed to help with something but never followed through on it. Even when I know a task doesn’t fall within my strengths — finances (hey, I got a 51% in grade 13 math), social media (I’m not really a fun person, and I’m not sure I want to be), or technology (I’m a selective luddite, becoming more selective all the time) — it’s often easier for me just to learn how to do it and get it done myself than to trust someone else to do the job, even if they’d probably do it better and easier. It’s one of my many issues.

I’m learning to accept this kind of help, however, and I’m learning that it’s often better to go about it just by tying in the people I know I can trust wherever they fit rather than posting an official job description to people who I might not know as well. Now, Sheri took on her role by responding to just such a job description, so there are clearly strong exceptions to the rule, but I’m finding it works best for me just to connect interested people, good people, people I can trust, wherever they happen to fit, even if they may not fit the preconceived roles that the board had in mind.

For example, a local author named Ryan Toxopeus has been very involved and helpful over the past couple of years. Among other things, he has split tables with other genre fiction authors at conventions that wouldn’t make sense for me to attend even if I had the time. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the experience with arts grants to fit the Director of Fundraising role the board is looking to fill, and it would be easy to focus too much on filling that role and pass him over, which would be a waste of a good, dependable, interesting guy who actually wants to be involved in what we do.

When I run into those people, I’m finding that I need to stop asking whether they fit the roles that we think we need to fill, and start asking whether we have other needs that could be met by their unique skills and interests. In Ryan’s case, he’s already started doing good work, organizing tables at conventions, filling a need that I’m unable to meet. So I decided to see if he wanted to take on that role more formally.

I sent him an email suggesting that we make him Special Advisor to the Galactic Senate on Issues Pertaining to Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, and Speculative Fiction in and around the Environs of Wellington County. He thought that Genre Fiction Coordinator might be a more suitable title, but he was interested in helping out in that area. He also thought it might be a good idea to have a meet up for genre fiction writers a few times a year, which is just the sort of thing that I’d love to see.

The point here, one I’m learning only slowly, is that you can’t pass over good people just because they don’t meet some predetermined plan. When you find them, you need to make room for them to use their strengths, even if you have to make up the job description as you go.

My friend John Jantunen launched his new book last night, a novel called Cipher, well worth a read, and there were quite a few people there to celebrate with him.  I was particularly enjoying myself, because I had no responsibilities for the event, so I could just have a couple $2 pints and chat with the other guests.

At one point I had a chance to talk at length with an established publisher who was kind enough to answer some questions for me and to take an interest in what we’re doing at Vocamus Press.  Then, as our conversation was finishing, two young men came to introduce themselves and ask about what was involved with Vocamus, and I found myself abruptly switching my role from student to mentor in the time it took me to turn from one conversation to the next.

On my way home after the event, I had a chance to reflect on the evening, and it struck me that this moment of being both student and mentor embodied a principle that is essential to the formation of a strong and developing community.  When we become too proud and isolated to learn from each other, when we become too arrogant and protective to teach each other, our community ceases to grow.  In order for us to develop as individuals and as communities, we must constantly be teaching and learning, encouraging and challenging.  If it can happen naturally, over a pint or two, so much the better.

I am proud to announce that Vocamus Press has published the first of its Vocamus Editions, G. K. Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill, an edition that I have been editing for something like seven years.  I love this book, and I hope that this new edition will give others the chance to love it as well.

Vocamus Editions are high quality editions of public domain books that are edited by members of the Vocamus Press community, and we are pleased to have Napoleon of Notting Hill as the first title in the series.  The edition is an excellent introduction to Chesterton’s earliest and most imaginative novel.  It offers an introduction to the text, a chronology of Chesterton’s life, and informative notes designed to help readers fully enjoy Chesterton’s classic story.  Both those who are reading the novel for the first time and those who are returning to it as an old favourite will appreciate this edition of the book that has influenced more than a hundred years of writers and revolutionaries.

Copies are available through the Vocamus Press website.

We have finalized the details for the launch party. It will be held on January 26th (rather than January 19th as we had previously posted), from 7:00 to 10:00 at the eBar in downtown Guelph. There is no cost to attend, and all are welcome.

The evening will feature readings by writers from Guelph and surrounding area, interspersed with a healthy amount of mingling, chatting, and drinking.

If you are a Guelph-area writer and would like to do a reading, please let us know at We would love to have you join us for the evening.

Vocamus Press is proud to announce the publication of fallingoverstandingstill by John Jantunen.

The novel interweaves parallel narratives against the backdrop of a desperate search for two pit bulls that have mauled a young boy to death in the cottage community of Bracebridge. The people at the heart of these narratives reveal a Muskoka beyond the resort brochures and the beach vacations, a Muskoka made up of lives that are lived when the tourists are looking elsewhere. Their stories are told with a sharp, clear prose, driven by dialogue, and they combine to create a starkly intimate portrayal of cottage country in Ontario.

The book is available through as a paperback and as an ebook.

Vocamus Press, the co-operative publishing venture I have been developing with some friends, is finally ready to make its official launch.  We are planing to have our launch party on Saturday, January 19th, 2013, with more details to follow when the day gets closer.

What we want everyone to know now is that the festivities will include, besides booze and food and good conversation, an opportunity for people to read from their own writing.   This opportunity is not just for the very few who have had the chance to publish through Vocamus Press so far, and not just for the larger number who are planning to publish with us in the future, but for anyone who would like to come and celebrate our launch with us.  So, if you have anything you would like to share — poetry, short stories, excerpts from larger works –  please email us at

Of course, you are also more than welcome just to come and join the festivities, in which case, book the date in your calendar, and we’ll see you there.

Vocamus Press, the publishing project that I have been developing with some friends, is proud to announce the publication of Eli, Eli by Kathleen James.

This book of poetry, first published in 1981 under the name of Louisa Lord, is the poetic record pf Kathleen’s eldest child, Eli, who passed away from cancer at a very early age. The writing is frank and poignant, full of a fierce and vulnerable strength. It is a poetry where many readers will find their own griefs reflected, and where they may also find the determination to endure through sorrow into hope.

The book is available through as a paperback and as an ebook.