“We would all rather dream than live by the roles of anyone else.”
-S.M. Beiko – The Lake and the Library (ECW Press, 2013)
“We would all rather dream than live by the roles of anyone else.”
-S.M. Beiko – The Lake and the Library (ECW Press, 2013)
“I think their stories are what got me writing. First in journals, accounts as truthful as I could make them, then as stories where actuality is stretched and manipulated, because the lies in fiction are such an effective way to tell emotional truths.”
-Charles de Lint – The Fields Beyond the Fields. In The Very Best of Charles de Lint.
by Derek Newman-Stille
I have been reading a lot of teen lit recently and thinking about the representation of girls in literature, particularly teen lit written by middle aged men. One of the things that I keep noticing is that the representation of girls is often continuing to be enmeshed in tropes and assumptions about girls rather than recognizing the complexities of the teen female experience. It amazes me how many middle aged people (and men in particular) tend to write out their assumptions about how their daughters think about the world.
A lot of teen lit tends to very accurately capture the voice of a middle aged adult’s opinions about teens… and very little about the actual teen’s experience of the world or the things she would consider to be important or evocative. Far too often, I have encountered male authors writing girls either as “this is what I thought of girls in high school” or “these are how I think my daughters encounter the world around them.” I have seen this particularly in the “um-like-ya-know” voice that authors often ascribe to teens… which both represents the snippets of conversation that they think they are hearing and the little tidbits of memory that they have from when they were teens (abstracted by age and years away from the teen experience and therefore turned into trifles).
Teen girls are complete characters, not just tropes that reflect our own assumptions about them. They are complex, have diverse motivations… they are HUMAN. They are not symbols of a changing world, icons of the deterioration of responsibility, or catty voices of a generation in trouble. So, when we see things like the “ugh-I-wish-I-could-talk-on-the-phone-all-day” or the “gosh-its-great-to-have-no-responsibilities” voices, we should recognise that these are tokenising teen experience and embodying the voices of adults who are speaking from a position of privilege rather than encompassing teen experiences.
I have focused here on girls rather than boys because the representation of male teens doesn’t tend to have as many problems (though there are still issues with the portrayal of male teens as not-particularly-bookish and more-action-oriented, as well as being stuck in the trope of how-do-I-become-a-man… which often devalues the complexity of their experience and tends to encourage male readers to ignore any aspect of their personality that is not within society’s view of masculine), but girls are still written about as shallow, needy, and incomplete, particularly when they are written about by male authors who tend to make assumptions about what girls are thinking that are more based on their own sexist, ageist way of viewing the world than they are revelatory of the teen experience. This is frustrating both from a social justice perspective as well as from the perspective of a reader who likes characters who are not one-dimensional. When authors write teens that are merely icons of social assumptions about femininity and youth, the story suffers as much as society does from the misrepresentation of girls and the continuity of the oppression of the teen female voice.
An interview with Alison Sinclair by Derek Newman-Stille
I consider myself very fortunate to have both done research on Alison Sinclair’s work, publishing a paper on the representation of disability in her Darkborn series and now to have had a chance to speak with her directly about her work and share her insights here on Speculating Canada. I hope that you enjoy this opportunity to delve into her creative process and to explore the power that good SF has to question the status quo.
Spec Can: Could you tell readers a little bit about yourself to begin this interview?
Alison Sinclair: I was born in the UK, but after that if you ask me where I come from you get an itinerary. Went pretty much from the cradle to science, was a bench scientist for a number of years, gave up the bench for medicine, then medicine for clinical research. Currently I work in health technology assessment. Wrote almost from the time I could put sentences together – got my first rejection when I was nine, having sent my first ‘novel’ to a New York publisher. I wish I still had that letter, or the opus itself, for that matter, but it got lost in one of our moves (there’s always that one box). It only took me twenty-five years to get published, which was Legacies, followed by Blueheart and Cavalcade. Followed by moves and market shifts, which led to a publishing gap until Darkborn, though two of the novels I wrote during the gap are now coming out from Bundoran Press.
Spec Can: What are some of the questions you hope that your speculative fiction writing will evoke?
Alison Sinclair: I have to admit I don’t think about audience while I’m writing. Part of it is that it’s such a challenge to make coherent such a complex structure as a story to myself, never mind anyone else. I’ve made people laugh by complaining that I’m not a verbal writer, but it’s true: once a piece of writing is advanced, I get characters speaking in my head – sometimes they won’t be quiet – but what I’m trying to capture in words is something best described as a shape and a tone, a set of tensions and balances, something entirely non verbal.
And to be honest, thinking about audience means that I run the risk of the inner censor being activated, and my inner censor is scary.
Spec Can: In what ways does your interest in science and medicine complement your interest in writing Speculative Fiction?
Alison Sinclair: The two of them grew up together, side by side. Science fiction gave me ideas (realistic or otherwise) of what being a scientist was and was like, long before I met my first working scientist, never mind set foot in a lab. (I’m afraid my CV might be best explained by my having seen the job I wanted at the age of nine and refusing to accept I’d been born 300 years too soon to become the science officer on a starship.) Fantasy – particularly portal fantasy – appealed to the explorer in me. Once I started writing science fiction, I could start building the science I knew into the stories. At the time I wanted to be a geologist, so I built from the geology up.
Spec Can: One of the things I really enjoy about your Darkborn Trilogy is that you illustrate the fact that if half of our society were blind, we would have to accommodate blindness. It is only because the blind population is smaller that we are able to ignore them. In what ways do you hope that your work will question the social construction of disability and help readers to ask why we aren’t accommodating blindness and other disabilities?
Alison Sinclair: One of the most enjoyable parts of writing for me is trying to shift reference frames, whether it’s an individual character or a whole society. I want, as much I can, to capture the sense that people have that their way of living is the normal way to do it. I want the alternate frame to be completely convincing: of course that’s the way it is. The influence of too much physics, I suspect, when one way of simplifying the equation to the point you could get on with solving it is find a suitable reference frame!
Spec Can: What inspired you to examine the topic of blindness and disability in the Darkborn Trilogy?
Alison Sinclair: I got the seeds for the Darkborn/Lightborn division while I was reading a fantasy novel where the whole light/dark imagery and good/evil division was overt. So the two seeds were making the division literal, and making the ‘dark’ side the heroes. Since the Darkborn were nocturnal, vision didn’t seem useful to them – although having grown up in the UK, I did allow them fire. (Barbara Hambly can have her characters shiver through entire novels, but I’ve shivered through enough winters without wanting to relive it.) Then I tried to work myself into Darkborn perspective where blindness was their norm. However, I knew that many successful nocturnal species had specific adaptations to let them function in poor light or darkness – exceptional low light vision, sonar (bats), electroreception (fish in murky waters). Hence, the Darkborn got sonn, although I took considerable liberties with its original model.
Spec Can: What were some of the challenges that came up when you were creating a world where half of the population was blind? How were you able to explore this notion? What sort of world-building techniques did you use?
Alison Sinclair: To the Darkborn, their limits are problems to be solved by technology and social organization. I wrote them as highly inventive and willing to take considerable risks to extend their reach. Hence, distance travel by train, which does not require steering, and the use of a system of bells for inshore navigation—though having kayaked in fog, I share Telmaine’s opinion of Darkborn in boats. Since they own their world, and are technologically more advanced than the Lightborn, they can engineer it according to their needs. The most challenging aspect of their lives is not directly that they are blind but that direct sunlight is lethal to them; sonn is no protection there. They have very accurate clocks and a complex system of social, legal and technological responses to that danger that have developed over centuries, and that they now take for granted.
When I was writing from the point of view of Darkborn, I found I had to explore a different vocabulary, one of shapes and textures. I have a fairly good spatial sense, so I was able to imagine myself into the spaces my characters were moving around in, and write from that perspective. When writing interactions between characters, I had to lose the language of eye contact, and to a certain extent, facial expression. Passive observation is difficult for Darkborn – it can be done, but it’s a skill – and most Darkborn have to use sonn, so that the object of their observation is aware of them. Sneaking around is difficult, too, as I found when Ishmael was trying to get to speak to Tercelle.
Spec Can: In the Darkborn Trilogy, you explore the topic of stigma, particularly the stigma attached to being able to perform magic. What inspired your interest in stigma? Was there a particular social stigma that informed your perspective on stigma?
Alison Sinclair: I suspect I came to use stigma for a number of reasons – it’s dramatically useful, because it imposes constraints on power, breeds conflict and jeopardy and ensures characters with gifts don’t have too easy a time of it. I suspect it’s also because my background is Scots Presbyterian, with an ingrained assumption everything in life must be paid for, usually in suffering.
Since with the Darkborn I was drawing in broad strokes from the Victorians, I included their emphasis on propriety and social order. Everything about magic threatens that social order – it is unregulated power, independent of wealth, social class, or gender. Very awkwardly, mages crop up in the best of families, and even weak magic, like Ish’s, reveals what lies underneath the social facade. Stronger mages can use their magic to coerce others into acting contrary to their wishes and interests – which is where they find an enemy in the otherwise fair Archduke. The usual forms of might and authority cannot defend against it. Mages like the Broomes’ commune have been partially protected by polite society’s choosing to ignore their existence, a tacit agreement that if they don’t trespass or threaten the power structure, they’ll be let alone – And stigmatized groups, as we know from history, have many uses to the larger society. By the end of Shadowborn, of course, that compact is thoroughly broken. One of these years, I’ll have to write the fallout on both sides of the Shadowborn insurrection. What I need to do is think about the plot, beyond and then there were consequences.
Spec Can: Gender features strongly as a topic in your work, particularly the relationship between women and men and the roles that society forces on them. What inspired you to explore gender and why is it so significant in your work?
Alison Sinclair: In my three earlier SF novels, and in my earlier writing life generally, my attitude was best summarized as, ‘I moved here to get away from all that.’ As a reader, I enjoyed the exploration of gender roles, even grim ones, like Charnas’ A Walk to the End of the World – I went straight from Wyndham, Clarke and Asimov to the social and feminist SF of the ‘seventies and ‘eighties – but I lived with it in every day life and had no desire to live with it in my novels. When I made up my own worlds, I could make them ones in which the principle of equality was non-negotiable. And then along came the Darkborn. I suspect it betrays my underlying attitudes and assumptions about fantasy, that one cannot escape the historical models. For the Darkborn, property, propriety and inheritance are paramount, and at least at the top of society, they have strict ideas of male and female roles and responsibilities. Rather than going the route of having a woman who rebels, I made Telmaine one who would not have questioned her place (which is, after all, near the top of the social pecking order), except that she has magic, and it forces her to an awareness and a series of choices she would not otherwise willingly make.
Spec Can: What can fantasy and science fiction novels do to bring attention to social issues and critique the status quos that we perpetuate in our society?
Alison Sinclair: My personal view is that the role of science fiction and fantasy is less to critique the status quo than to explore the alternatives, both desirable and undesirable. Critiquing implies accepting the constraints of the present day. For that, there is mainstream literature, which has a superb tradition of it (though I have the sense that the novel as social critique has fallen out of favour in mainstream literature. Maybe SF/F is being asked to make up the deficit …). In SF any and all givens are up for change, provided the writer can make a story out of it. And even if fantasy looks to historical models, those cover several millennia of human experience in finding solutions to the problem of how to get along with each other (or not), and building families, societies, civilizations and great works of art or atrocity.
I also think the exploration of alternatives is particularly important, given its appeal to young adults, who are still developing the intellectual tools for critique, but who respond strongly to the aspirational aspect. You can see that in the number of people who work in space exploration, or in science in general, who trace the origin of their ambitions to Star Trek or early SF, and by readers’ responses to Jo Walton’s Among Others, in which the protagonist envisions and constructs a different life for herself through reading, primarily of SF.
Spec Can: Is there something particularly Canadian about the way that you explore identity in your work? What aspects of your Canadian identity do you see showing up in your writing?
Alison Sinclair: The experience that shows up most persistently in my work is of being an immigrant. Mine’s a more subtle dislocation than most, since I was not crossing boundaries of race, language, or religion, but there were distinct differences in social norms and expectations. I entered Canadian society at an age when I was just learning the customs of the world outside my family, and re-entered it in my teens, when I was starting to learn to negotiate the adult world. I came from a society where accent and vocabulary were basic markers of origin and class, which more than anything else determined inclusion/exclusion. As a newcomer to Canada, I had an accent that set me apart, and a different vocabulary. As a small, memorable example, I spent my first morning at a new school in near agony because I did not know the proper way to ask to be excused to go to the washroom – and at eight, that could make or break you socially. Words had different meanings, the tiny taboos of school society were different – though the punishments for breaking them were as cruel – boundaries were different, manners were different … The paradigm Sinclair character is the one who has started in one place and ended up in another, and who lives with the perpetual unease of having come from somewhere else, if he or she is not actually caught between two worlds. That’s Lian in Legacies, Rache in Blueheart, everybody in Cavalcade, Erien in Throne Price, Ish and to a lesser extent, Balthasar in the Darkborn novels, and Teo in my upcoming novel, Breakpoint: Nereis.
Spec Can: What is the appeal of magic? Why do you think readers keep being fascinated by the idea of magic?
Alison Sinclair: Well, there is the pure power fantasy, but I think there’s also the fascination with the idea of working one’s will on the real world, of escaping physical boundaries. And for the imagination, there’s the opportunity to come up with an entire magical system, all its rules, properties and symbols, from scratch, and be able to unify it thematically with the rest of the book. How often do SF writers get to rewrite the rules of the universe to suit themselves? I admit I spent a certain amount of time staggering around punch-drunk with I can do anything, before writerly discipline set in and I had to start thinking about logic and consequences.
I want to thank Alison Sinclair for this fantastic interview and for all of her insights, as well as for writing enlightening fiction that questions social norms. You can explore her work at http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/ .
“’Don’t you want to find out?’”… that’s the spirit of science fiction.”
-Jo Walton – Among Others (TOR, 2010)
Scientist involved in medical research and Science Fiction and Fantasy author, Alison Sinclair is an author with diverse interests. I was lucky enough to encounter her work when it was recommended to me by a colleague, Cathy Schoel, because of my research on disability in Canadian Speculative Fiction. Sinclair’s Darkborn series features a world where half of the population is blind, and as someone who is interested in representations of disability, I found this absolutely fascinating. She was able to challenge a lot of the assumptions about disability in our world, posing questions to readers about the treatment of people with disabilities. I consider myself very fortunate to have now had the opportunity to talk to Alison Sinclair after looking at her work through a disability studies lens.
In our upcoming interview on Friday February 21st, Alison Sinclair talks about silencing the inner censor that can prevent creative explorations, the relationship between science and science fiction, the power of good fiction to alter people’s assumptions and frame of reference, developing a complete fantasy world by exploring a different environment and different people’s norms, effectively writing a blind culture and considering the social relationships of disability, the dramatic and character development potential inherent in stigma, and the uses and abuses of stigmatised people by those in control. Sinclair discusses the power of Speculative Fiction to question taken for granted social norms and propose alternatives to the way we view the work.
Here are a few teasers from our upcoming interview:
Alison Sinclair: “I’m afraid my CV might be best explained by my having seen the job I wanted at the age of nine and refusing to accept I’d been born 300 years too soon to become the science officer on a starship.”
Alison Sinclair: “Once I started writing science fiction, I could start building the science I knew into the stories.”
Alison Sinclair: “One of the most enjoyable parts of writing for me is trying to shift reference frames, whether it’s an individual character or a whole society. I want, as much I can, to capture the sense that people have that their way of living is the normal way to do it.”
Alison Sinclair: “I suspect I came to use stigma for a number of reasons – it’s dramatically useful, because it imposes constraints on power, breeds conflict and jeopardy and ensures characters with gifts don’t have too easy a time of it.”
Alison Sinclair: “When I made up my own worlds, I could make them ones in which the principle of equality was non-negotiable.”
Alison Sinclair: “My personal view is that the role of science fiction and fantasy is less to critique the status quo than to explore the alternatives, both desirable and undesirable.”
Alison Sinclair: “In SF any and all givens are up for change, provided the writer can make a story out of it.”
Alison Sinclair: “The experience that shows up most persistently in my work is of being an immigrant. Mine’s a more subtle dislocation than most, since I was not crossing boundaries of race, language, or religion, but there were distinct differences in social norms and expectations.”
Alison Sinclair: “The paradigm Sinclair character is the one who has started in one place and ended up in another, and who lives with the perpetual unease of having come from somewhere else, if he or she is not actually caught between two worlds.”
I hope that you enjoy our upcoming interview and all of the questions that Sinclair raises about the relationship between speculative fiction and society.
If you have not had a chance to read Alison Sinclair’s work yet, you can explore her website at http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/ .
You can check out a review of her novel Darkborn at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/blind-magic/
An interview with Sean Moreland by Derek Newman-Stille
Sean Moreland and I have been engaging in a discussion about horror for years, both academically and as fans of the genre and I am pleased that I have been able to share some of that conversation here with Speculating Canada’s readers. I am a fan of Dr. Moreland’s scholarship as well as his editorial work that has highlighted horror texts that may not otherwise have been published. He and others working with Postscripts to Darkness have been able to highlight literary horror and weird fiction and focus on good, powerful works while resisting some of the pressures of the publishing industry to conform to expectations of the genre that have been shaped by the past and by audience expectations from past works of horror. Their genre-bending work has engaged my attention, and Sean Moreland’s own willingness to break barriers between the role of author, editor, and academic have been an inspiration. I hope that you enjoy this conversation between us as much as I have.
Spec Can: To begin our interview, could you tell readers a little bit about yourself?
Sean Moreland: I’m a sometime-writer of short fiction and poetry, much of it in a grotesque or fantastic vein, a University English professor who teaches sessionally at the University of Ottawa, and a scholar whose major research interests include horror and weird fiction and film. I’m also the founder and a fiction editor of Postscripts to Darkness, a twice-yearly serial anthology of strange fiction and art.
Spec Can: You teach horror courses at Ottawa University, what first got you interested in horror? What were some of the first horror books you read and horror movies you watched?
Sean Moreland: I’ve had a fascination with horror and weird fiction since I was a small child. When I was five years old, my parents bought me the Piccolo Explorer book of Demons and Demonology (a book whose vivid illustrations still feverishly populate my brain) and shortly after that my maternal grandmother, a one-time schoolteacher who was also instrumental in teaching me to read at about three years of age, bought me a collection of abridged, illustrated literary classics for kids, which is where I first discovered some of Poe’s tales, as well as H.G. Wells War of the Worlds and Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. That seemed to seal the fate of my literary tastes.
It was the literature that first stirred my love of the weird and horrific, but films followed close behind. I was staying up late on weekends to watch horror classics on late-night TV shortly later. My father was apparently convinced at one point that if he agreed to stay up with me and watch, I’d fall asleep before him and he could tuck me in and switch on a late-night sports show or something, and the glamour of being able to stay up late would be eliminated for me. This never worked. I’d be bright-eyed and absorbing a Universal classic or a Godzilla film or something, and he’d be snoring away soundly on the couch by ten.
My tastes were forcefully accelerated by my cousin Tanya, a year my junior, who was, I suppose, my first “horror-buddy.” I remember her regaling me with plot summaries of horror movies she’d watched, and having nightmares about, for example, Friday the 13thand A Nightmare on Elm Street before ever seeing them. I lived in mortal terror of the family dog, a beagle named Candy, for a couple of months after Tanya described the plot of Cujo to me in gruesome detail.
Ironically, when Tanya’s taunts of “chicken” helped me overcome my initial trepidation, I quickly found the films themselves much less frightening than my own imaginings of them, and a life-long horror film habit was off to a sprinting start. It’s always struck me as interesting that childhood gender dynamics featured in my early introduction to horror films, as I was conscious that if Tanya, who was both a girl and nearly a year younger (and bear in mind I grew up in a small-town Ontario context where male child-socialization revolved heavily around sports and such, and where phrases like “you throw like a girl,” or “don’t be a sissy” were in chronic superabundance on the schoolyard) could watch these taboo “grown-up” movies and take them in stride, I should be able to, as well.
Spec Can: What do you enjoy most about teaching horror?
Sean Moreland: Being passionate and enthusiastic about your subject always makes teaching less of a job and more of a pleasure, and that is readily conveyed to the students, I think.
Spec Can: What are some of your favourite moments when teaching horror?
Sean Moreland: Many of the students who already have an interest in, or even a passion for, the genre, but who have never had the opportunity to really engage critically with the pleasures and challenges it offers really rise to the occasion to talk and write about it in the classroom, so that’s always a pleasure. I really enjoy discussing the personal and social dimensions of our reception of horror texts – inviting the students to share their own reception of these texts always generates great in-class discussion, and I’m very curious about both the continuities and differences in terms of how horror texts are differently socialized over the decades. Relatedly, I also love talking about the idiomatic vocabulary that we tend to use in describing our reactions to horror texts (“scary as fuck,” “scared the shit out of me,” and so on) and what it tells us about the embodied nature of our response and the feelings that horror texts evoke, which leads into a wide variety of sociological, psychological and philosophical discussions.
Spec Can: What can students learn by engaging with horror? What can horror do to broaden their horizons?
Sean Moreland: What can’t horror do, if considered closely? Whether we’re approaching it from a broadly generic viewpoint, or from a psychological response perspective, or looking at how cultural anxieties are shaped and manipulated by horror texts, for centuries horror fictions have been intricately interwoven with our individual and cultural development, and have been actively attempting to tap into our innermost fears and desires. Horror, broadly understood, can be a powerful lens focused on nearly every aspect of our lives.
Spec Can: Horror often heavily involves the body. What can horror say about the body?
Sean Moreland: By its affective nature, horror tends to be closely tied to anxieties about the body, so it has always had a great deal to offer in terms of approaches to studying perceptions of the body and their relation to identity. Horror is, in a way, the proving ground for any conceivable form of alienation from the body, any conceivable kind of dysmorphia. But horror texts also tend to aggressively interrogate the body as a locus of desire, which is one reason there has been so much Freudian and Lacanian ink spilled in discussing horror texts, not to mention how generative horror texts have proven to be for Foucauldian and Deleuzian studies.
Spec Can: In addition to teaching horror, you also write horror fiction. What are some of the things that you hope your horror fiction will do for your audience?
Sean Moreland: Publishing fiction is a new thing for me – I come to it late in life. I’ve published a few stories lately, and hope to gradually publish more, but I don’t have any kind of systematic goal with my fiction, really – each story is very much its own thing. I am an informal apprentice of the writers I read and admire, and an occasional experimenter with ideas and techniques I largely pillage from writers I study and teach.
For example, “The Rosy Boa,” which I was pleased to learn you found to be an effective piece, is basically a re-writing of a classic camp-fire jump-scare story I remember from my childhood, “The Fur Collar,” through the lens of a Poesque unreliable narrative structure and a semi-autobiographical preoccupation with gender dysphoria.
The version I was familiar with came from J. B. Stamper’s book of scary stories for kids, Tales for the Midnight Hour, which I read innumerable times when I was five or six, and which I’ve just bought a copy of for my stepdaughter. My version is a very different kind of “camp” fire story (and one I won’t be reading to her any time soon!)
I can say that each story slowly evolves towards its own practically inarticulable end, an end which I usually think I’ve arrived at prematurely, and then months later, and often after the story has been incised by the keen eyes of the writing workshop I participate in with some story-minded friends, I realize it has further yet to go.
I also have a powerful, unrealistic, irrational, and likely pretentious hatred for the market-end of writing fiction, and generally have little interest in tailoring the things that I write for particular markets, or audiences. Largely for this reason, I’ve never hoped, planned, or tried to make a living as a professional writer, and am often puzzled and amazed by those who have tried, and infinitely more so, those who succeed in doing so.
I write fiction, like poetry, occasionally, shoehorning it in between teaching, working on academic writing projects, and being a family-guy. Of course, like every other wanker out there with literary aspirations, I also often muse aloud about putting more time aside to focus on fiction (this summer, Derek, this summer I swear!) but life devours time nearly as fast as time devours life.
I’m heartened, and intimidated, by the fact that one of my favourite living writers, the incomparable Glen Hirshberg, somehow manages to balance life as a devoted father, full-time high-school teacher, community-pillar, and prolific and masterful professional fictionist, but I personally suspect he’s sold his soul to dark powers in order to strike that balance.
Spec Can: You also co-edit the Postscripts to Darkness series of Canadian horror anthologies. What are some of the things that you are hoping to do with the series?
Sean Moreland: I hope to see our audience, which is currently very small, gradually expand, to which end we are currently re-thinking our production model. Local offset print runs, which we’ve been doing up to Volume 4, really painfully restrict our ability to get the book into the hands of people outside of Ottawa. What is key for me, and for the other editors, though, is being able to preserve our own unique editorial vision for the series, creating a space for unsettling, and often trans-genred, works of dark literary fiction.
Spec Can: What got you interested in doing microfiction for the first two volumes of Postscripts?
Sean Moreland: PstD got its start following a microfiction competition I organized with Dominik Parisien as a way of generating some local involvement for the Rolling Darkness Revue’s Canadian tour back in 2010. The stories had to be 750 words, max, and were judged by Glen Hirshberg and Peter Atkins of the RDR, who picked three winners. Dom and I were so impressed by not only the winning fictions, but also many of the other submissions, that we decided we should turn them into a book. The first issue was thus conceived as a one-off thing, but it subsequently snowballed in terms of interest (my own and that of my subsequent collaborators in the project, Aalya Ahmad, Dan Lalonde, Ranylt Richildis, James Moran, and of course, Dom, but also that of a small, but growing, body of readers) and so the series was born, and so it continues.
Spec Can: Why was it important to you that Postscripts to Darkness include illustrations and interviews as well as fiction? What does this add to the volume?
Sean Moreland: I loved the idea of including a few illustrations to highlight the fictions, and in the first volume, the illustrations were based on the three winning stories in the contest I mentioned. It was Aalya who persuaded me that having an illustration commissioned for each story in each issue was a great model, and she was, of course, quite right. I’ve always loved the possibilities of ekphrastic art, and having a gifted visual artist bring their own unique conception to an original work of fiction can be a potent combination. The interviews were initially, I think, Dom’s idea – he conducted our first, with Amal el-Mohtar. They have become a central part of the project because they give us an opportunity to connect with writers we admire, to draw the attention of our readers to the great things they’re creating, and to help disseminate their work and thought in some small way. We’re expanding the interview component of the project now, with an eye to including more interviews on the website, and printing excerpts from these in the books themselves. This will free us up to have longer, fuller interviews, without over-stuffing the book itself and squeezing out the fictions. Our readers will see this new format playing out for the first time in PstD 5, which we plan to launch in May or June.
I want to thank Dr. Moreland for his critical exploration of the power of horror, and for reminding us, as readers, that we have power to question and look at the deeper cultural issues evoked by and explored through horror.
You can explore Postscripts to Darkness further at http://pstdarkness.com/ .
“We are lost without our names, without the stories that we scratched into the surface of our hearts”
-S.M. Beiko – The Lake and the Library (ECW Press, 2013)
Author of speculative fiction and poetry, university English professor, editor… Sean Moreland has a diverse relationship to speculative fiction. Dr. Moreland and I met at CanCon in Ottawa, but have since been able to meet at a variety of academic conferences and discuss the topic of Canadian Spec Fic from a variety of different perspectives. On Wednesday February 12, I hope to share some of Dr. Moreland’s insights about teaching horror as a horror and weird fiction author, gender dynamics in horror, the importance of a horror-buddy, changes in horror over the decades, horror’s power to provide insights into cultural anxieties and desires, horror’s interaction with the body, and issues of the market shaping the kind of horror that often sees light.
Most of these topics are part of an ongoing conversation that Dr. Moreland and I have been having about horror for years and I am very excited to be able to share that conversation with you, Speculating Canada’s readers.
Here are a few teasers from our upcoming interview:
Sean Moreland: “What can’t horror do, if considered closely?”
Sean Moreland: “I quickly found the films themselves much less frightening than my own imaginings of them, and a life-long horror film habit was off to a sprinting start.”
Sean Moreland: “I really enjoy discussing the personal and social dimensions of our reception of horror texts – inviting the students to share their own reception of these texts always generates great in-class discussion, and I’m very curious about both the continuities and differences in terms of how horror texts are differently socialized over the decades.”
Sean Moreland: “By its affective nature, horror tends to be closely tied to anxieties about the body, so it has always had a great deal to offer in terms of approaches to studying perceptions of the body and their relation to identity.”
Sean Moreland: “Horror, broadly understood, can be a powerful lens focused on nearly every aspect of our lives.”
Sean Moreland: “I also have a powerful, unrealistic, irrational, and likely pretentious hatred for the market-end of writing fiction, and generally have little interest in tailoring the things that I write for particular markets, or audiences.”
Sean Moreland: “What is key for me, and for the other editors, though, is being able to preserve our own unique editorial vision for the series, creating a space for unsettling, and often trans-genred, works of dark literary fiction.”
Dr. Moreland edits Postscripts to Darkness, a twice-yearly anthology that features weird fiction and art. It is a volume that I have been lucky enough to contribute some of my art to. You can explore Postscripts to Darkness yourself at http://pstdarkness.com/ .
“I know that we are going to destroy the world that holds us. We are savages, treating the Earth like a toilet, fouling our own nest. We all seem to agree on that now… We knew what we were wreaking and it scared us, most of all because we couldn’t see any way of stopping it. So we stick our heads in the sand. The ostrich does this not to become invisible to its foe; it wants to avoid seeing what’s coming for it.”
-Scott Fotheringham – The Rest is Silence (Goose Lane Editions, 2012)