A review of Cherie Dimaline’s Empire of Wild (Random House, 2019)
By Derek Newman-Stille
A fascinating blend of Red Ridinghood, werewolf fiction, Greek myth, and Rogarou legends of Metis people from the Georgian Bay area, Cherie Dimaline’s Empire of Wild weaves together monstrous wolves into a book that is partially horror story and partially a call for social change. Like many werewolf tales, Empire of Wild calls attention to predatory masculinity, and the Rogarou (from Loup Garou, French for werewolf) she creates are transformed into their animal form by transgressions, primarily against women. The Metis people in Dimaline’s tale all grew up with Rogarou lessens and were taught not to wander too far away from the main paths or they would be stalked by the Rogarou, much as Red Ridinghood’s mother tells her.
Joan is a woman who walks her own paths, and even though early in her childhood, she encountered the Rogarou, she still seeks her own way, often telling herself that the stories of her people are just stories. Yet Joan becomes embroiled in a cosmological battle for her land, her husband, and her lifeways. She has to learn from the stories of her elders and partake of their magic in order to keep herself and her family safe from the predators around them.
Cherie Dimaline brings attention to the predatory nature of white men in particular, highlighting the way that white people have predatorily taken Indigenous lands and continue to try to consume more and more. Whiteness is the personification of consumption in Dimaline’s narrative. Her Metis characters seek to buy back land taken from them by white people, constantly fighting against business interests who try to consume more of their land and fill the land with mines and pipelines. She brings attention to the continuing action of businesses to pollute Indigenous territory and displace Indigenous people from their traditional lands. She explores the implications of the church in that theft of land, pointing out that the church seeks to alienate people from the traditional practices of the land in order to pave the way for businesses to buy up land. One of her characters, a miner, tells her protagonist Joan that the church works to control Indigenous people and saying that “the only real threat to a project – to our jobs – are the Indians. They’re the ones with the goddamned rights, I guess. Always protesting and hauling us into church… But when the missions come through? They’re too busy praying to protest. The missions are good at changing the way people see shit…. Mission tents are an important part of mining, of any project really – mining, forestry, pipelines. That’s what’s going up in here next, a pipeline conversation.” Dimaline brings critical attention to current issues around land rights and pipelines, pointing out the continual exploitation of Indigenous peoples. Dimaline points out that colonialism is not only consumptive, it is predatory and the rogarou becomes a symbolic manifestation of this constant territorial violence.
Dimaline uses the image of predation to talk about the loss of selfhood and identity, creating the danger of a wolf that consumes a person from within, consuming everything that makes them who they are and leaving a hollow shell. But, Dimaline also links the rogarou and its predation to missing and murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, pointing out the way that Indigenous women and girls are especially at threat to predatory behaviour, violence, and death. Dimaline, in particular, highlights the predatory and violent nature of toxic masculinity, providing a critique of the way that masculinity is constructed and the violence of the image of the so-called “alpha male”.
Dimaline’s story is an interplay of fairy tale, myth, legend, and Indigenous cosmology, and, like most tales and traditions, it has powerful implications for rethinking and challenging contemporary issues.
Spec Can: To start our interview, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Terese M Pierre: Sure! I’m a writer and editor, based in Toronto. At this point, I’m mainly writing poetry, but I also sometimes write essays, about my experiences in the writing community and my family. I’m also the senior editor of poetry at Augur Magazine, a speculative literature magazine in Toronto.
Spec Can: What inspired you to start doing Book Looks?
Spec Can: Many of your Book Looks bring attention to books by marginalized authors. Can you tell us a bit about the importance of supporting marginalized authors and the way that your Book Looks highlight the important work being done?
Terese M Pierre: I didn’t start doing the book looks as a way to promote specific books or authors per se, but because it was fun and it made me happy. Later on, I chose to do book looks for marginalized authors to bring attention to the great work they were doing, their craft and skill and talent. Some people online would comment that they had never heard of the books that I was doing, which I found interesting. Since the pandemic started, a lot of in-person book launches were cancelled, so it was important for me to promote the books of marginalized authors at that time—maybe it was a kind of marketing, hopefully they found it helpful. Nowadays, I’m doing a lot of Black American authors, to show my support their art during a time of great turmoil.
Spec Can: How did you come to be interested in make up art? What inspired you to get into make up art?
Terese M Pierre: I turned 19 and decided that it was time for me to start wearing makeup. I don’t know why—maybe I associated it with adulthood, like alcohol. Still, I barely touched the makeup I had for a few years, save for special occasions. I started watching YouTube tutorials to practice. I think my makeup book looks are quite conservative, to be honest, or perhaps, more wearable. At the time when I started doing book looks, makeup was the only thing I had around that I felt most comfortable using. It would have always been my first choice.
Spec Can: Make up art is highly personal, literally using your own face as a canvas. What is that experience like — to literally be part of your art?
Terese M Pierre: While it is incredibly personal, I try not to see it that way. My face is very front-and-center, and it’s very easy for me to get caught up on my blemishes, how wide my cheeks are, how my skin tone is “clashing” with the makeup. There are makeup book looks I’ve shared that I didn’t personally like, but I knew that other people might not see it the same way I did. At the same time, knowing that my face is necessarily part of the art has made me more confident. I’m finding things about my face that I love.
Spec Can: What is it like to have your own art work (in the form of make-up) in conversation with another artist’s work – the book cover artist? How do you decide what elements to pull out of the book art and adapt?
Terese M Pierre: As I like to make my looks a little more wearable, there are a limited number of eye shapes I can do. After I choose one, it’s a matter of picking which colour goes where. I love colourful covers for this reason. If there are other details on the cover, such as leaves, flowers, smoke, wings, and the like, I add them where it makes sense, to the best of my artistic abilities. I don’t think I go too off-base when it comes to interpreting the cover-artist’s art. I know I don’t—and can’t—get things perfectly. A few cover artists have reached out to say they liked my makeup look, and that meant a lot to me. I like that they still appreciate my iteration of their art.
Spec Can: What are some of your favourite colour palettes for your book looks?
Terese M Pierre: I like blue/purple palettes, and sunset (red/orange/yellow/pink) palettes. They’re really easy to blend, and I think they look great on me.
Spec Can: What are some of the books that you were the most excited to create Book Looks for and what did these books mean to you?
Terese M Pierre: The book looks for the first two books I did (Eternity Martis’s, “They Said This Would Be Fun,” and Tessa McWatt’s, “Shame On Me”) were the ones I believe I was the most excited to make. It meant a lot to me to showcase the new work of Black women. I’m always most excited to do book looks for Black women authors.
Spec Can: How have authors responded when they have seen you perform your Book Looks on social media?
Terese M Pierre:Almost all authors who’ve seen the book looks that I make—I tag them on Twitter, but they don’t always see it—have responded positively, and have shared the looks with their audiences. What I always try to get across is that doing makeup book looks is that I’m doing this for fun, not for work.
Spec Can: I know I said that I was going to focus on Book Looks, but if you have time, could you tell us a little bit about your own poetry and your recent chap book Manifest?
Terese M Pierre: I write a lot about nature and romance, and the variations those themes could take. A lot of my poetry—like my first chapbook, Surface Area—deal with desire, tension and self-reflection regarding love and (in)dependence. My second chapbook, Manifest, is something different for me. It’s entirely composed of speculative fantasy poems, and it’s the first time I’m putting out something in that style—it’s sort of an experiment. I’d only started writing speculative/fantasy poetry in the past year, but when I performed my work at readings, they were well-received. Hopefully this chapbook is well-received, too.
Spec Can: In your poem “Fortune”, you focus on foods and the visceral quality of food, but food takes on meanings of space, place, and identity. What guided your interest in places and their relationship to food?
Terese M Pierre: For me, the focus of that poem was the relationship between the speaker and their beloved, and food was a means through which love was expressed. The fact that the beloved made the effort to find the brand of ice cream the speaker loves was part of that emphasis on connection and love. Food—the ice cream in this case—in this poem, is a path to learning about someone’s history, their fears, their desires, especially a person who is not immediately trusting. I try, whenever I can, to ground my poems in concrete things—physical places and foods, and the relationships they bring, are ways in which I can do that.
Spec Can: In your poem “Lines”, what inspired your linking of place and story? What do you notice about the way that places where we have lived are linked to the stories we tell… and perhaps have shaped our own stories?
Terese M Pierre: As someone who’s lived in 3 countries, location, narrative, and memory were interesting things to think about in the context of relationships. We are physical people—the way we move through the world is filtered through our bodies and where our bodies are, the space we take up. I think that the fact that different bodies can experience the same space differently is fascinating, and can definitely inform stories in unique ways. I try to consider that when writing poetry—the speaker isn’t me, so how do they move about the world? What space does their body take up? What stories can they tell? Trying to inhabit the world of the poem and the mind of the speaker in the context of bodies and space is a challenge that never gets old.
Spec Can: Are there any resources that you would like to point fans to so that they can support your work?
Terese M Pierre: I have a website, www.teresemasonpierre.com, and that’s where most of the links to my work are, as well as where to go to pre-order my chapbook. I’m afraid I don’t have anything else, but I’m always happy when others support my work.
Spec Can: I want to thank Terese M Pierre for taking the time to share some of her amazing Book Looks on Facebook and Twitter and for taking the time to chat here on Speculating Canada about her brilliant art work.
Terese Mason Pierre is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in Canthius, The Puritan, Quill and Quire, and Strange Horizons, among others. She is currently the Senior Poetry Editor of Augur Magazine, a Canadian speculative literature journal. Terese has also previously volunteered with Shab-e She’r poetry reading series, and facilitated creative writing workshops. Terese lives and works in Toronto.
Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD (They/Them)