Interview with Regina Hansen, August 2020

Spec Can: It’s great to chat with you again Regina. Last time we chatted was a couple of years ago and it will be wonderful to catch up. Can you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Regina Hansen: Sure. I’m a writer and scholar of supernatural subjects. I was born on Prince Edward Island, raised partly there, then in Montreal. I moved to Massachusetts – where my mother’s family lives – when I was a teenager. I live in Somerville, Massachusetts with my husband and three kids. I’ve written a bunch of scholarly work, and some non-fiction for kids, and now have a YA novel coming out.

Spec Can: I am fascinated by the supernatural subjects that you research. Can you tell us a little bit more about those?

Regina Hansen: My scholarly research tends to be based in myth and religion, and how these are reflected in horror/fantasy film and television. I’ve written a lot about angels and demons and have a scholarly collection coming out with Jeffrey Weinstock – his idea – called Satan and Cinema. I’ve also worked on Stephen King – with Simon Brown, and on the TV series Supernatural, with Susan George. And somewhat related I’ve enjoyed writing on A Christmas Carol, on Neo Victorianism and Victorian Medievalism, but all with a mythic slant.

Spec Can: That is a fantastic scope of research. Do you find that your scholarly work informs your creative writing? Is there a lot of crossover in the ideas you explore?

Regina Hansen: I started studying and thinking about myth and folklore when I was very small, and so finding ways to work it into my scholarship was a joy. Of course, at the same time, I’ve always done creative work that makes use of myth and folklore. My upcoming novel combines stories I heard as a child from my Prince Edward Island family, as well as different elements of world mythology. Celtic, of course, because it’s set on PEI, but also going back much further — but that’s kind of a secret for those who end up reading the book.

Spec Can: Your book sounds absolutely amazing. Could you tell us a little bit about it?

Regina Hansen: Sure. It’s called The Coming Storm, and features a 15-year-old apprentice fiddle player named Beatrice MacNeil, or Beet — which is actually the nickname of one of my great-great-aunts, and I always thought it was kind of cool. Anyway, Beet’s older cousin, more like a brother, dies under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind his baby son. Beet decides to be the boy’s protector. This decision becomes much more dangerous when a woman — Marina Shaw — shows up trying to claim the boy.

Meanwhile there are all these tales of a shapeshifting sea creature and a woman who shows up at the sight of drownings and shipwrecks, singing a frightening but seductive song. Beet and her friends have to find a way to protect the baby and get to the bottom of the strange and scary events that have been happening in the town. Beet’s training in music will come in handy, but so will her learning to trust other people.

Spec Can: I love a good sea creature story. What inspired the focus on the sea? Have you had a long fascination with the sea?

Regina Hansen: Yes! The sea is the one place I am always happy.

I think it is being born on an island.

So combine that absolute joy whenever I am at the ocean with a love of folklore and music … that’s where the book came from.

Spec Can: One of my areas of interest is nissology (Island Studies), so I adore discussions of islands. In what way do you think your story is shaped by being an “island story”?

Regina Hansen: First of all it makes use of the geography and some history of a specific island, Prince Edward Island. But also, there’s this general character of island people where everyone tends to know each other and each other’s stories, a whole world in microcosm. I’ve spoken to people from other island about this. I have cousins from Martha’s Vineyard and friends from some of the Hawaiian islands, and you often hear the same thing, same experience of seeing someone in the bank and they say “Oh, are you staying and so an so’s cottage this year?”And you just met the person in the bank.

Spec Can: I love that closeness that islands can bring for people. How about you, personally – how do you think being from Prince Edward Island (PEI) has shaped you?

Regina Hansen: It probably shaped my sense of humour, the turns of phrase I use, the kinds of flowers I like, the fact that I like flowers at all! Seriously, the kinds of baking I do. My grandmother taught me to read and crochet. Spending every summer with my grandparents after we moved away, it helped me to appreciate peace and quiet, and clean air, and knowing when certain plants grow and what the tides are. Not being spoiled. I get a lot of that from both sides of my family, of course, but there are things I can do and that I know about that other people my age don’t know — everything from how to read a recipe using an oil stove to what sound certain birds make.

Spec Can: You mentioned that folk music was an important part of The Coming Storm. Can you tell us a little bit about how music has influenced your book and what inspired you to weave it through the story?

Regina Hansen: First of all, I come from a family of musicians. My father and brother are professional musicians. There are are also many performers on my mother’s side of the family. The kind of music in the book — folk or roots, music, fiddle music — that was something I heard all the time on the Island, on the radio and also live. Also my father has won awards for playing and promoting regional music and has a radio show called Bluegrass Island. There’s vocal music in the book, too. I’m an amateur singer — and have been taking lessons recently — I also used to play the trombone. All of this experience and training went into the book.

Spec Can: That is fantastic! Do you find that there is any Prince Edward Island folklore in the music you have encountered?

Regina Hansen: Yes, there are songs and tunes based on ghost stories and Island legends, like Lennie Gallant’s Tales of the Phantom Ship.

Spec Can: I always love a good ghost story. Could you tell us a little bit about some of the ghost stories you remember?

Regina Hansen: So some of them are very specific to the town where my Dad grew up and around there. There’s one about a woman who waited on a bridge for her son to return from seeing a girl she didn’t like. She died there, and now haunts the bridge — at least that’s what my Dad says. There are stories of people being seen in their homes when they were actually in the process of dying hundreds of miles away — some cultures call that a “fetch” although I never heard that term used. There are stories about the Devil showing up in disguise or of black dogs bringing omens. Some of these I heard from my family. Some were things kids talked about at swimming lessons.

I think you can hear these stories in a lot of places. I just happened to pay attention because like you I love a good ghost story.

Spec Can:You are living in Massachusetts now, have you noticed a difference between the way that ghost stories are told in Massachusetts versus how they are told in Prince Edward Island?

Regina Hansen: Interestingly there are a lot of similarities. There is a long historical connection between Massachusetts and Atlantic Canada.

I owe my existence to it.

Spec Can: Oh, fascinating! Can you tell us more?

Regina Hansen: Well, my parents met when my mother went up to the Island for school. She heard about what was then St Dunstan’s University from neighbours who were from PEI. Somerville, There was a period in the 70s when a third of the population of Somerville was originally from somewhere in the Maritimes. I still know people from Boston to Cape Cod who have family on Prince Edward Island, or in Antigonish or Cape Breton. My family and many others called the US the “Boston States.”

Spec Can: The Coming Storm is a Young Adult book. What got you interested in writing YA?

Regina Hansen: I’ve written all my life, but I focus on children’s and YA supernatural fiction because those were the books I most loved.They were my escape. They made my life better in every way. If I can, I would like to recreate for young readers the joy I experienced reading those books at 11, 12, 13, 14 years old. You know that feeling of hiding a way on a summer evening to read a book, that spiritual lift. I would love my work to do that for a kid.

Spec Can: What would it have meant to you to have a book like yours when you were a teen?

Regina Hansen: Honestly, in some ways I would just like to live up to some of the books I was lucky enough to read when I was a young teen. But I do think I would have liked to have encountered my heroine, Beet, as a teen. She’s strong and sort of vinegar-y. She’s from very limited means and has a lot of responsibility for a young girl, and she just does what she has to do. I personally understand that experience, and I also see in her women like my grandmothers and mother — good hearts in tough packages.

I really appreciate my agent and editor for not pushing me to decentralize the female character. Especially this character.

Spec Can: When is The Coming Storm coming out and how do we find it?

Regina Hansen: The Coming Storm is due summer 2021, so there’s a bit of wait still. It will be published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon and Schuster — and I couldn’t be happier.

Spec Can: Is there anything further you would like to add to our interview?

Regina Hansen: Only that I feel honored to be interviewed about this work.

Spec Can: I want to thank you for a fantastic interview and for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with me today. I am extremely excited to read The Coming Storm when it comes out!!

Regina M Hansen is the author of the forthcoming young adult supernatural novel The Coming Storm (Atheneum Summer 2021). She teaches at Boston University and (as Regina Hansen) is the co-editor (with Susan George) of Supernatural, Humanity and the soul: The Highway to Hell and Back, author/editor of Roman Catholicism in Fantastic Film (McFarland 2011) and co-editor (with Matthew Parfitt and Stephen Dilks) of the reader Cultural Conversations: The Presence of the Past (Bedford-St. Martins, 2001). Her recent scholarship has appeared in Science Fiction Film and Television and the anthologies Neo-Victorian Families (eds. Christian Gutleben and Marie-Luise Kohlke, Rodopi 2011) and Fathers in Victorian Fiction (ed. Natalie McKnight, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2011). She is also a contributor to The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Filmic Monsters (ed. Jeffrey Weinstock, Ashgate 2014), and has reviewed for The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts.

Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD (They/them)

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