For any of you who missed the On Air interview with Sandra Kasturi and Ian Rogers on Trent Radio, here is a digital version of it for you to download.
A review of Anna Frost’s The Fox’s Mask (Musa Publishing, 2012)
By Derek Newman-Stille
It is refreshing to see a fantasy book that is set in Imperial Japan. So often, fantasy series are based on a Western Medieval archetype, inferring that this is the only forum for sword and sorcery. Anna Frost, although not Japanese herself, explores the imagery and richness of Japanese culture as a framework for her novel The Fox’s Mask. Populating her novel with Kitsune (fox spirits), healing spirits from springs, demons possessing humans, and dragons, it is clear why she chose an ancient Japanese setting for her fantasy series because it is so rich with mythical material for her to incorporate into this narrative. The framework of Shintoism works so well for explorations of the fantastic, having a general comfort with the notion that the natural world is populated not just with recognised animals, but also with a range of spiritual beings and manifestations.
Frost’s novel explores the relationship between duty and love (whether that be of a job or of a person), the social obligations that try to push people to accept familial responsibility over their own needs. Akakiba is a kitsune, able to transform from human form to fox form. He is a samurai, interested in protecting humanity from demons who would do them harm. He loves his job, and tolerates the humanity that he serves to protect… yet, his world is shaken when he is forced to take on a human apprentice, Yuki. Despite sharing years with his apprentice, he keeps secrets from him about his past, his family, and his kitsune nature. Despite his family wanting him to hold his first duty to them, he sees his primary duty as the protection of humanity, honouring his relationship to Yuki, and living the samurai lifestyle.
Yet, his choices have consequences. By not choosing to settle down and have a family of his own, he risks his clan, a people that are facing extinction as their numbers dwindle. Not only the foxes, but all spirits and otherworldly beings are beginning to dwindle, gradually disappearing from the world. The world is changing and Akakiba is faced with the notion that he may be contributing to that change by not taking a mate.
The Fox’s Mask is further enthralling because of its willingness to feature LGBT or queer characters. Characters are accepted in a large number of different relationships and love is not limited to heterosexual relationships. Because the foxes are able to change shape between human and fox and change sex between male and female, they are comfortable with ambiguities of gender and sex. They aren’t stuck in the human notion that one’s born gender defines them, or that one must chose to only enter into a sexual relationship with the opposite sex… the only challenge is that they try to encourage their members to enter into relationships with the opposite sex to ensure that there are children born and that the dwindling population continues. Anna Frost’s engagement with queer subject material is complex, not allowing easy relationships, but instead inviting the reader to engage in the complexity of issues that arise from a past society that is different from our own (both because of the past setting and the fact that they are foxes).
To find out more about The Fox’s Mask, visit Musa’s website at http://musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=400
“The universe is, after all, large, and there is much more silence than noise, much more void than matter. Perhaps we are the aberration”
– Terence M. Green – The Woman Who Is The Midnight Wind (In Tesseracts)
Just a short reminder that you should tune in to Trent Radio at 5:00 to listen to an interview with Sandra Kasturi and Ian Rogers. You can access Trent Radio at 92.7 FM within broadcast range or online at trentradio.ca by clicking “LISTEN: OGG & MP3 Streams”.
A review of Sandra Kasturi’s Come Late to the Love of Birds (Tightrope Books, 2012)
By Derek Newman-Stille
In her poetry collection Come Late to the Love of Birds, Sandra Kasturi creates a spectral reality, an assemblage of words that makes the familiar strange and the strange familiar. She reveals the extraordinary in the natural, taking scenes of everyday life and introducing an otherworldly quality, a nuance of language and image that breaks down the notions of what is real.
The figure of the bird provides a framework for this strange-making process, an animal that is both fundamentally natural and present, but also simultaneously distant, ethereal, coded with otherworldly flights of fancy. She fixes the reader with the animal gaze, a gaze that is both common and completely Other, and that gaze finds humanity wanting. She helps to estrange us from our hegemonic ideas of humanity – our belief that we are superior to nature – and makes the reader question their taken-for-granted beliefs about the appropriateness of their impact on the environment.
Come Late To The Love of Birds is an interplay of the mythic and the evolutionary, revealing that neither in science nor in mythology can one find a complete picture, but it is through the interplay of the critically realist and the transcendently fantastic that we are able to see the complexity of the world around us.
She titled a section of the collection “Hieroglyphs of Wind”, and in that phrase, she reveals the key to her poetic craft – the infusion of her breath with an occult quality of words, beyond simple meaning or singular expression. Her words are imbued with complexity, multiplicity, and a deep interplay of meanings. Her poetic art is simultaneously completely natural and wholly transcendent.
To discover more about Sandra Kasturi and her work, visit her website at http://sandrakasturi.com/ .
Yesterday, I was in the studio at Trent Radio having a discussion with Sandra Kasturi and Ian Rogers, which will be aired on Tuesday June 25th at 5:00. You can check out our discussion at 92.7 FM in the broadcast range or if you are outside the broadcast range, you can visit Trent Radio online at http://www.trentradio.ca, where it will be live streamed if you click on “LISTEN: OGG & MP3 Streams”.
Hear us discuss dark, weird fiction, the power of smaller Canadian presses, SF cover art, fears, mythology, ChiZine Publications, the blurring of genre boundaries, SF poetry, and the ability of fiction to “weird” reality enough that we look at it from a new perspective. Oh, and for those of you in Peterborough, we also talk a bit about how Peterborough is the ideal place for getting ideas for creepy horror novels.
Sandra Kasturi is the co-owner of ChiZine Publications, editor of “Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing”, and author of two books of poetry: “The Animal Bridegroom” and “Come Late to the Love of Birds”, both published by Tightrope Books. To find out more about her and read some of her poetry, visit http://sandrakasturi.com/ .
Ian Rogers is the local Peterborough author of a collection of dark fiction called “Every House Is Haunted” from ChiZine Publications and “SuperNOIRtural Tales”, a collection of supernatural detective stories,from Burning Effigy Press. To find out more about Ian Rogers visit http://www.ian-rogers.com/.
Thanks are well deserved for the assistance of Trent Radio, Alissa Paxton for her tech skills, John Muir and Kathleen Adamson for finding us a place in the broadcast schedule, and, of course to Sandra Kasturi and Ian Rogers for coming in to the studio for this discussion. Thank you also to Brett Savory and Kathryn Verhulst-Rogers for contributing to an amazing conversation.
“Let pages turn as they may and locks come undone;
Let one world unravel, as another’s begun.”
Sandra Kasturi – The Soft Key (Come Late to the Love of Birds – Tightrope Books, 2012).
A review of Julie Czerneda’s A Turn of Light (Daw, 2013).
By Derek Newman-Stille
Julie Czerneda’s A Turn of Light is a transformative text on multiple levels. It is about Jenn Nalynn, a girl on the cusp of womanhood who is confronted with her own changing nature and the need to understand her own place and what has shaped her into who she is. Not only is her situation changing, but her understanding of herself has shifted and she is left with questions about where she has come from and what has shaped her, and what she is becoming. She is coming to realise that her world is shaped in secrets, things kept from her, and truths that are buried seemingly for her own protection. But, innocence can be dangerous, secrets can cause pain, and not-knowing often means actions taken in ignorance that can be harmful because they lack an understanding of the context in which they occur.
Jenn is in a place of magic, Marrowdell, a place that she has grown up with and seen as normal because it is the world that has shaped who she is. But, it is a place where people eat toad eggs, where toads guard houses, where trees move of their own volition, where water appears when needed, and where dragons play in the meadows invisible in the light but revealed in their majesty as the world turns to twilight. Only through a stranger’s eyes, by hearing about what wonders surround him, does Jenn see that the place she lives in is not “normal”, that it is wondrous. As a truth-seer, Bannan sees more than others – he sees that roads run as silver, that the house toads wear armour, that moths are able to write down what they observe. He sees what Jenn is incapable of seeing, notices what she doesn’t notice.
Jenn is met with the need to understand herself and her place in her world better, to see truths that have been hidden from her for her own protection. She is changing, and with those changes, she grows in connection to her home of Marrowdell (a place which she cannot leave without death to herself and the landscape) and also in her own magical ability. Yet, without being taught about her magic, with it constantly being buried and kept secret from her, she acts out of ignorance, causes damage to the people, places, and things around her. Cushioned in a world that doesn’t want her to experience hurt, she hurts others by accident. When power and ignorance are paired, damage is bound to happen.
Jenn, desiring companionship, transforms her childhood friend, Wisp, a creature who plays with magic, invisible, and ever-present, into a human being. He loses his dragon nature, trapped within a man’s shape and limited by it. He becomes something different, changed against his will by Jenn’s wish. Wisp has become Wyll, a stranger to Marrowdell, and a source of interest and fascination to a village that is accustomed to knowing everyone. He questions things, challenges ideas that are entrenched, and provides a foil for human actions, showing that what is assumed to be natural is only natural for human beings.
Czerneda creates a world in which everything and everyone is in flux, challenging and questioning themselves and the nature of the world around them while trying to uncover mysteries that have been left hidden in the desire to protect secrets. She reveals that worlds are always steeped in the mysterious and that everyone is always searching for their place in the world while only knowing a fraction of it, of themselves, and of those around them. There is a danger in ignorance, and a need to learn and reveal even painful truths to others to prevent harm.
To discover more about Julie Czerneda and her current projects, visit her website at http://www.czerneda.com/ . To discover more about A Turn of Light, visit http://www.czerneda.com/fantasy/turn.html .
An interview with Michael Kelly by Derek Newman-Stille
I was very pleased when Michael Kelly was willing to share some insights with readers of Speculating Canada. I have been reading his work for years, and was impressed at the depth of his insights and thoughts about Canadian horror. I hope that readers enjoy our conversation as much as I did.
Spec Can: To begin our interview, could you tell readers a little bit about yourself?
Michael Kelly: Thanks, Derek. I’m an author, editor, and publisher based near Toronto, originally hailing from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. My work has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Black Static, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Postscripts, Space & Time, Supernatural Tales, Tesseracts, and others. I’ve been a finalist for The Shirley Jackson Award, and the British Fantasy Society Awards.
Spec Can: What inspired you to become a horror author? What appeals to you about horror?
Michael Kelly: Horror’s appeal is that it is, to me at least, the broadest and most inclusive of all literary forms. It truly has the widest canvas. If we are to categorize literature into genres, then certain works of science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, and mainstream literature can easily fit under the horror umbrella. Douglas Winter famously opined that horror is not a genre, it’s an emotion. Though that is a bit simplistic, I do ascribe to that basic notion, somewhat. Horror is a mode of literature more than a genre.
When I write, I don’t actually aspire to genre. I don’t sit down to write horror. I just write. What comes out, I guess, can loosely be described as horror. But, if we are to categorize (and I understand people’s need to do so), then I guess you could call my work horror, for the most part. I prefer Robert Aickman’s term “strange stories.”
Spec Can: What do you hope your readers will take from reading your fiction?
Michael Kelly: I hope they experience a shift in their perceptions, a slight subversion of the every day, a queer unease. Whether my approach is ontological or psychological, hopefully I can reveal to readers some small insight into human nature.
Spec Can: What is different about Canadian horror from that of other nationalities?
Michael Kelly: Is Canadian horror different from other horror fiction? Well, some say my raison d’etre is promoting Canadian horror. It’s the reason I edit the Chilling Tales series for EDGE Publications. Volume 2 will be out soon.
Canada is certainly fertile ground for imaginative minds. What I’ve discovered is that Canadian writers explore the same themes as their contemporaries. Stories of corporate horror; side trips into surrealism and modern supernatural horror. Tales of loss. And the all-too-real horrors of everyday life, of existing in harsh climates, whether literal or psychological. Not unlike any good horror fiction, then. Except I sense a distinctly Canadian worldview, a disquieting solitude, perhaps, or a tangible loneliness, that permeates these stories and makes them truly chilling Canadian tales. There is definitely a Canadian aesthetic.
Spec Can: What can horror do to inspire readers or challenge the status quo?
Michael Kelly: Hmmm, well, other than to entertain, much of horror fiction is grounded in philosophical treatises. Horror is, to me, so inclusive of themes and ideas, the outré, that by it’s very nature it challenges the status quo. Much of it is reliant on mood, atmosphere, and the unknown. It is a mode, especially, I think, in the short form, that tests our meager existence.
Spec Can: You have been instrumental in creating Undertow Publications, a small press that produces horror work. What is the virtue of small independent presses?
Michael Kelly: I am a very small press, a micro-press, to be sure. I prefer the term independent press, though. Years ago, the independent press was a vital outlet for writers; a place where you could find literate, daring, and avant-garde fiction that bucked the mainstream, and eschewed commerciality. You can still find that, to be sure, but with the proliferation of DIY publishing, and the publication of four-hundred new eBooks every twelve seconds, it’s become increasingly difficult to find that fiction. It’s almost not worth looking for, but, like finding that needle in a haystack, the small amount of pain is worth the discovery. There’s good, bad, and terrible writing in both the traditional and self-publishing arenas. The independent press still plays a role, to be sure, and the savvy reader, whether by word-of-mouth, recommendations, or simple sleuthing, can usually find those innovative works. Hopefully, out of the morass of the DIY culture, we still have some savvy readers.
Spec Can: Could you tell readers a little bit about the anthology Shadows and Tall Trees that you edit? What are some of the key things that you hope the anthology will focus on?
Michael Kelly: I’ve just published issue 5 of Shadows & Tall Trees. It’s a journal of weird fiction, and strange stories. I’ve had the pleasure of publishing a number of distinguished authors in its pages, including Robert Shearman, Alison Moore, Steve Rasnic Tem, among many others, and Canadian writers Sandra Kasturi, Richard Gavin, Ian Rogers, and Simon Strantzas.
My focus is thoughtful, intelligent weird fiction. Fiction that gives you that genuine frisson. So far, I think I’ve accomplished that. It’s been very well received, with praise from Ellen Datlow, and Peter Straub. Five stories from the first four issues have been selected for reprint in six different “Best Of” anthologies.
Spec Can: You have written about and published stories about ghosts. Why do ghosts inspire our fascination as a society? What appeals to the human imagination about the idea of haunting?
Michael Kelly: Most of us have a good dose of empathy. Ghosts are mostly born from trauma or tragedy. When they return, when they haunt us, we still empathize with their circumstance, their condition, whether malevolent or not. It’s an interesting dichotomy — empathy for the dead. Ghosts, you see, aren’t about the dead, they’re about the living.
Spec Can: As a horror author, what frightens you? What inspires your fear?
Michael Kelly: I suspect the things that frighten me – loss and abandonment – are the same things that frighten many writers. My fears are less tangible, perhaps. It isn’t spiders or snakes or dolls or clowns. Those things are creepy, yes, but I am not afraid of them. I fear losing my children, my wife. I fear loneliness and aging. Death. Who doesn’t, on some primal level, fear death?
Spec Can: How does fear inspire your work?
Michael Kelly: It spurs me to write while I’m still among the living.
Spec Can: What mythologies inspire you? What mythical themes and ideas imbue your work?
Michael Kelly: I wouldn’t say any particular mythology inspires me. My fiction is often reality based, psychological in nature, with an emphasis on characters, mostly flawed.
Spec Can: What can horror do that realist fiction can’t?
Michael Kelly: Oh, gosh, that’s a good question. The short answer is ‘I don’t know.’ I think of my fiction as realist. If you say “horror,” a set of readers are going to have certain expectations. Mostly blood and viscera. That’s not me. My definition of horror is broad. “Alien” is a horror movie. “The Road” is a horror novel. Weird fiction that takes an ontological approach can open a new philosophy to some. But realist fiction can do the same. It’s all in the writing.
Spec Can: Why is so much of horror literature fascinated with the body? What can horror reveal about the body?
Michael Kelly: We’re made of blood and bone, skin and gristle, teeth and tissue. These are the fragile vessels that propel us around this fragile world. Bodies give us pleasure and pain in equal amounts. When the body is invaded and hurt, when it is mutilated or begins to erode, when disease attacks, it reminds us of our mortality. But there’s also, to some, something inherently deviant and taboo about seeing unnatural things happening to our bodies. Body horror brings a new level of intimacy to our lives.
Spec Can: In what ways do you hope your fiction will inspire readers? What do you hope readers will take away from reading your work?
Michael Kelly: Other than what I mentioned further above, I just hope readers enjoy the tales, and that the themes and ideas resonate. Hopefully the stories will linger a little with the reader.
Spec Can: Where do you see Canadian horror going from here? What does the future of Canadian horror look like?
Michael Kelly: Canadian horror fiction is having a renaissance. It’s definitely in a good place, thanks to publishers like ChiZine and EDGE, and authors like Craig Davidson, Gemma Files, Richard Gavin, Sandra Kasturi, Lisa L. Hannett, Helen Marshall, David Nickle, Ian Rogers, Michael Rowe, Simon Strantzas, Tia Travis, and Halli Villegas, to name a few. The future of Canadian dark fiction is bright.
Spec Can: Is there anything further that you would like to add to this interview or any other ideas that you would like to share?
Michael Kelly: Thanks, Derek. I’d just like to point readers to Shadows & Tall Trees, the journal I edit. As a one-person operation it is hard to get the word out. I think lovers of weird and strange fiction will enjoy the journal. As a very small independent press the only way to keep afloat is to sell copies. Issue 5 is now available at all the major online retailers. I do hope you’ll take a look. I guarantee it’ll be worth your time and money. You can find more info and order back copies at:
I want to thank Michael Kelly for this incredible conversation about Canadian Dark Fiction and being willing to share his passion for the dark and the thoughts and speculations that come out of pondering the dark.
“What I like is getting my head turned around. I get off on fresh perceptions, widening horizons, new thoughts, and I like them best when they occur as a process in my own mind, rather than an exposition at which I am a passive spectator/ receiver. What I look for in SF is the story (or verse – occasionallly film – sometimes even essay) conceived and written in a way as to suggest alternatives that will cause me to exercise my own imagination to broaden my own vision. To ask the next question.””
-Judith Merril – Afterward (Tesseracts)