A review of Rhonda Parrish’s Mrs. Claus: Not the Fairy Tale They Say (World Weaver Press, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille
Traditionally, Mrs. Claus is presented as a secondary figure in the Santa Claus myth – so much so that she doesn’t even have a name but derives all of her identity from her husband. She is generally depicted as a dutiful wifely figure whose main tasks are baking cookies and doing care work for Santa. She is presented as the perfect embodiment of hetero-patriarchy. Rhonda Parrish’s anthology Mrs. Claus: Not the Fairy Tale They Say fundamentally disrupts this image and presents a variety of images of Mrs. Claus as an empowered, active figure.
Because little mythical work has been done constructing Mrs. Claus in the past, the writers in the Mrs. Claus anthology were given a lot of room to work with in constructing the identity of Mrs. Claus, so the stories in the anthology were able to venture across a wide variety of possible narratives. Authors drew on genres as disparate as Science Fiction, Fantasy, Steam Punk, and even Horror in their constructions of a Mrs. Claus narrative.
In addition to the North Pole location for her home, Mrs. Claus is taken to other planets filled with scorpion-like aliens, underground in goblin caves, an asylum, the fairy realms, and airship-filled skies. These are mighty women and often the stories present Mrs. Claus as the origin point for the Yuletide holidays, and Santa only as a figurehead. These Mrs. Clauses are Valkyries, baby-snatching fairy queens, witches, monster hunters, airship pilots, and detectives solving crimes. These aren’t dowdy women who spend their time baking cookies – these are warriors.
A review of Nathan Frechette’s “Cinderfella” in Whispers Between Fairies (Renaissance, 2020)
Nathan Frechette’s “Cinderfella” is a biotext, a story of Frechette’s own body and transition told through fairy tales. Frechette explores the way that fairy tales have shaped his life, from providing a world away from a harsh outside world when he was young to providing a text of transformation while he was going through his transition.
Frechette illustrates the need for more Trans fairy tales, especially since his tale explores the pain of transformation and the worse pain if he wasn’t able to transform. He reveals “Fairy tales and fantasy were such a safe world for me; tales of transformation in particular gave me hope that someday I could grow into myself, that someday I might find my true body, my selkie skin, that a blue fairy would descend from the skies and make me a real boy”. He explores the idea of a selkie skin, an image he also explored in his story “Skin” in Over the Rainbow (Exile, 2018). A selkie is a creature from Irish and Scottish lore who is a human who wears the skin of a seal. If this skin is stolen, the Selkie becomes under the power of the person who steals that skin and becomes their obedient and powerless partner. This notion of shedding and returning skin is a powerful one for Frechette, allowing for the examination of the way gender, body, and identity are intertwined with social expectation and social control. Frechette uses the image of the selkie to explore his own transition, interweaving this with the image of Pinocchio’s magical transformation by the blue fairy.
However, Frechette also examines the pain and work of transformation. He observes that “Just like a fairy tale, though, everything came at a price. There were trials, and I had to prove my worth, mostly to myself. Just like the little mermaid, I had to sacrifice my voice and endure pain as my transformation got underway. Just like Pinocchio, I had to struggle through the lies I told myself to find my truth and be worthy of change. Just like Cinderella’s prince, I had to see through the appearances and misconceptions of the world to find and embrace my love”. Transformations and transitions both take time and come with barriers and new ways of looking at the world.
“Cinderfella” is a tale of self discovery and the magic of seeing fundamental truths about oneself. Frechette says “There once was a little boy whom no one could see. All who looked upon him could only see the girl he appeared to be. The illusion was so complete that even the boy could not perceive his true nature, only a sense of discord and discomfort with his false skin, and an uncontrollable, unfathomable, and ever-growing rage”. Frechette powerfully describes the pain of dysphoria and the internal conflict inside of himself before he transitioned.
In “Cinderfella”, Nathan Frechette writes his own body through fairy tale, using ideas of transformation from multiple fairy tales to weave them through his own narrative and in some ways his own body. The act of rewriting is a powerful one for Trans authors, a way of articulating one’s own identity where society had originally written a different identity upon our bodies. In “Cinderfella”, Frechette rewrites not only the fairy tale traditions he draws upon, but the texts that have been written over his body in the past and through this weaving of tales, he articulates himself.
A review of Catherine MacLeod’s “The Stone Alphabet” in Earth: Giants, Golems, & Gargoyles Edited by Rhonda Parrish (Tyche Books, 2019)
By Derek Newman-Stille
Catherine MacLeod’s “The Stone Alphabet” is a refreshing collection of microfiction stories. Each of the stories is only a few lines of text but shows incredible worldbuilding, character development, and each has a delightful twist ending. MacLeod plays with the senses of the reader, moving us from world to world and story to story, immersing us in little drips of horror instead of a larger pool of story.
Like the rest of the Earth collection, MacLeod’s collection focuses on the multiplicity of the element, illustrating the idea that Earth can be articulated in a variety of ways. She tells stories about characters with an appetite for stones to stories of the underworld, tales of dark cellars that suddenly appear, addictions to beauty mud, statues carved into life, and stories about stoning.
Despite the short length of these tales, MacLeod explores deep and powerful social patterns and ideas. She explores ideas of life and death, oppression and violence, loss and imprisonment, representation of the human body and the implications of creating something so close to the human. MacLeod invites her reader to speculate and imagine new possibilities, using the “weird” to invite readers to question their norms and everything that is taken for granted. Playing with the theme of the earth, she shakes the foundation of the reader’s reality and invites new philosophies and ideologies. The rapid succession of worlds and stories allow for a sense of cognitive dissonance, immediately putting the reader in a reflective, questioning space.
Reviewed By Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD (They/Them)
A review of Chadwick Ginther’s “The Enforcer” in Rhonda Parrish’s Earth: Giants, Golems, & Gargoyles (Tyche Books, 2019).
By Derek Newman-Stille
Chadwick Ginther’s “The Enforcer” is part of a collection on the element of Earth by Rhonda Parrish, titled Earth: Giants, Golems & Gargoyles, yet his vision of the earth is unique. He associates the earth with the things that go in it – bodies. “The Enforcer” is a necromantic tale, a story of raising the dead and challenging the barrier between the living and the dead. It’s about things that rise from the earth.
Ginther’s take is a Frankensteinian story, with a character named Frank who happens to be an assemblage of different body parts. Of course, he isn’t the original Dr. Frankenstein’s famous creature, but he, like the classic monster, is made up of parts of dead bodies. Where Dr. Frankenstein reanimated his monster through science, Frank is resurrected through magic performed by a cult. He is made up of parts of the bodies of multiple soldiers. Frank is a creature defined by his parts, defined by memories and thoughts of multiple different soldiers that intrude on his consciousness. He isn’t one thing. He is always a multiplicity. Frank’s body is shaped by pain and he is constantly in pain. Ginther imagines possibilities for a fragmented life filled with pain for his monstrous hero.
This is a narrative of autonomy and control, exploring what it is like to have control over a body that is fundamentally resistant and what it means to unify multiple minds and resist external control.
Ginther imagines Frank in a way that several scholars have done – picturing him as a golem made of flesh rather than of earth (because flesh becomes the earth and is placed in the earth). For those who haven’t encountered the mythology of the Golem, it is a figure from Jewish folklore who takes on a human shape, but is made entirely from mud, clay, or earth. Often the golem is created to work for someone or achieve a task for them. In Frank’s world, golems are creatures made of earth that often have a dead body at the centre of them. They are figures that are brought to life by necromancers. So although Frank is made of flesh, he has something in common with these figures of earth. Frank is also an artificial body made up of matter.
Ginther centres his narrative in Winnipeg, imagining a magical undercurrent to the city and secret clubs and bars only available to the undead. In this strange underbelly to Winnipeg there are constant struggles over who has control over life and death and Frank finds himself trapped in the middle of these struggles, needing to find a way to survive.
Today, I chat with CanLit scholar Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay about some trends in Canadian literature, ideas of belonging and the Canadian Nation State, and Canadian music. Thank you to Sebastian for joining us here and sharing his insights.
Spec Can: To begin our interview, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: Absolutely, I’m currently a PhD Candidate at the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies at Trent University. I have a broad interest in Canadian literature and cultural history, specifically how they interact with ideas of nationalism(s) and national identity.
Spec Can: A lot of people hear “Canadian Studies” and they think this means pro-nationalist. Can you tell us a little about your perceptions of nationalisms and national identity?
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: That is something that I have to constantly confront within myself and my work. I think that what Canadian Studies as an interdisciplinary field of study which includes within it the possibility of a multitude of interpretations and approaches to Canada’s past and present has historically aimed to resist easy readings of nationalism. I understand why people would feel that way, however, the field was more of less created at a time in the mid-twentieth century when there was legitimate worry about the state of Canada. For many, higher education became the locus of their anxieties. We can debate in retrospect whether or not their concerns were justified, but we can’t discount that these were real concerns being expressed. The field that would eventually find its home at Trent, is now one which is actively resistant to singular readings of Canadian history. In my own work, especially some of the papers I’ve given on Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip, have demonstrated is the untenability of a unified national culture in Canada. I feel like nationalizing statements which followed The Hip around for most of their career and culminated in the CBC produced “National Celebration” is wonderful, but the sentiments tend to fall apart as soon as you begin to expose them to level of scrutiny. I think that’s a good thing, and from all the interviews and articles I’ve read with Gord Downie, he would have been the first to agree and resist that kind nationalizing message.
Spec Can: Can you tell us a bit about some of the anxieties that shaped the development of Canadian Studies?
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: Gladly! In my opinion, the basis of these anxieties is the question of our relationship, in the twentieth century, to Britain on the one hand, and the increasingly powerful and influential United States. I would say these tensions have underpinned Canadian history since Confederation, and arguably before, but I think they begin to take on a popularized tone in the years immediately following the Second World War with the advent of new forms of mass media. Large numbers of Canadians suddenly became acutely aware of the fact that the majority of the television and radio shows they were consuming were American and the novelists and writers, and the magazines they wrote for were as well. Add to this the fact that Canadian universities were hiring almost exclusively British or American Professors and I think it’s understandable that people became alarmed about the lack of Canadian representation in these institutions. One of the most illustrative novels from this period, in my opinion, is “The Watch that Ends the Night” by Hugh MacLennan where the main character George Stewart constantly reflects upon the generational and ideological shifts following the war and its relation to Canada’s place in the world. He’s also the host of a radio show and lives in constant fear of one day being made redundant by the growing popularity of television. These kinds of concerns would eventually lead to the Massey Report of 1951 which outlined the need for the government of Canada to intentionally promote and develop a “distinct” artistic culture. I use the word culture with hesitation as Vincent Massey was notoriously reluctant to use it in the report, due in large part to its slippery definition and my own reluctance to suggest there is any unified “culture” in Canada. We’re lucky enough here at Trent to follow in the footsteps of founding President, Professor Tom Symons, whose report “To Know Ourselves” outlined the need for Canadian content in universities. Prior to that, there was of course the more radically nationalist document “The Struggle for Canadian Universities” by Robin Matthews and James Steele. Both documents provide the rationale for Canadians teaching Canadian topics in Canada, which at the time was quite radical. It’s hard to place ourselves in that place, and I think it can be temping to under estimate just how palpable these concerns were for those involved in bringing about these changes. I just hope we never take it for granted!
Spec Can: Why, in your opinion, does Canada constantly seem to be seeking its own identity and trying to articulate what it means to be Canadian?
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: Ahh, the eternal question!
Spec Can: What are some of your thoughts on the subject?
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: In all seriousness, this is, for me at least, the motivating question behind my work here at Trent. I think it’s based in the fact that as a nation, Canada has never really had a unified sense of self and as I said earlier, that’s absolutely a good thing! I think it’s been true at a broader constitutional level since confederation. While the original BNA Act of 1867 was a far from a perfect document, I think it achieved a certain recognition of the regional and ethnic differences of the nation, as these ideas were then recognized, again, imperfectly, and with terribly racist exclusions, but which set the stage for the next 153 years of searching for a some sort of a unified identity. I think the closest we’ve come is the Charter’s vision of a civic, constitutionally endowed right to belong to and relate to the “nation” of Canada as one chooses at an individual level. It’s imperfect, yes, but evolving and I would be out of a job if we ever settled it.
Spec Can: What got you interested in the work fo Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip?
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: You could say I was born into it, almost literally as my Mom was pregnant with me when she first saw The Tragically Hip perform. My parents are huge influences on me in many ways, but one of the biggest ways was fostering and encouraging my love of music as well as my love of reading and writing.
Spec Can: Oh wow, so it is very personal for you!
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: Yes it is. The Hip’s music has always been in my life. When Gord Downie passed away in 2017, I was a year away from starting my PhD, but I remember thinking about how interesting it would be to work on a project that explored Canadian identity through their music.
Spec Can: Speaking of reading and writing, you mentioned that your research involves Canadian literature. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: Yes, of course! I’ll admit that my interest in Canadian literature tends towards the conventional ‘big names’ of the post-war period through to 1960s and 70s and mainly with fiction. I spend a lot of time with Hugh MacLennan, Margaret Laurence, Mordecai Richler, Adele Wiseman, Leonard Cohen, Robertson Davies etc. I’m also quite interested in the journalistic work of Peter Gzowski. My main interest, however, is in exploring how their work interacted with larger historical or social themes of those decades in a Canadian context. It’s also the period of time when the idea of what we might call “CanLit” today really took shape alongside the necessary publishing industry. Today, there’s a lot of criticism of CanLit both as an idea and an industry, much of which I think is absolutely warranted and important. The idea, in Alicia Elliot’s provocative words, that CanLit is a raging dumpster fire motivates me to figure out how the fire got started. In a way, my focus on these writers is an attempt to perform a crime scene analysis to find out how the fire got started, while it’s still raging, because it most certainly is!
Spec Can: What are some of the social themes that you notice keep being explored in CanLit?
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: I think the biggest thing historically, and it’s no surprise given the overall theme of our discussion, is the pervasive questioning of identity within Canada. To add to this, however, there is a constant theme of belonging, both to a community and within the nation of Canada itself. I don’t think that these are necessarily unique to CanLit, but I do feel that the way Canada is constituted almost begs these questions rise up in literature written within it and about people living here, no matter where they were born. On a side note, I’ve always found it interesting that some of our foremost contemporary writers here in Canada came here as adults and have written so movingly about the experience and challenges of coming to live in Canada. Writers like Dionne Brand, Michael Ondaatje, and Rawi Hage spring immediately to mind when I think of this specific aspect of CanLit.
Spec Can: What ideas of belonging are explored particularly amongst marginalized Canadians? And what does this say about Canada’s portrayal of itself as a “multicultural” and “welcoming” community?
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: I think that it’s important to separate the concept of multiculturalism from its legislative history. As legislation, it gives a name to the embodied experience of marginalized peoples in Canada without doing much to actively change the circumstances of their experience of belonging within the nation. You don’t have to dig very deep into the writing of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) writers in Canada, both presently and historically, to understand the fact that issues of belonging have been at stake within the geographic space we now call Canada since the beginning of colonization and that these voices, though historically under represented and under studied, have always provided a critique of the Canadian state as a welcoming space. I think it’s also important to recognize that the context out of which Official Multiculturalism came about was at a time of resurgent Québec nationalism which was seen as a legitimate threat to the unity of Canadian federalism. Playing minority interests off of each other is hardly the definition of being warm and welcoming, but it has certainly served its purpose of keeping the federation together, at least for now!
Spec Can: What are some other trends you are noticing in CanLit?
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: I think the larger academic discussion over the past few years has been to rigorously question the project of CanLit. The collection “Refuse: CanLit in Ruins” has brought to popular attention the ways in which the publishing industry has worked to further marginalize BIPOC voices as well as those of women and members of the two spirit community. One of the most powerful arguments coming out of that collection is Joshua Whitehead’s commitment to remain accountable to community while the larger CanLit project continues to remain complicit in exclusionary and silencing practises. I don’t want to co-opt Whitehead’s words here or use them to make arguments about other writers and their relations, but I do think that discussions around accountability to community instead of institutions is a major trend and conversation happening right now amongst writers and academics surrounding literary work in Canada. I think it’s extremely important.
Spec Can: What things need to change to actually make CanLit responsible to the public? How can we make a socially just literature?
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: I think a really important thing is to gain an understanding of the history of the writing in this country. Part of why I’m so interested in reading works written from the 1940s onwards is that it serves to remind us that the issues we’re discussing have a history and that they’re not new discussions in any way. I think we’re better equipped to talk about the present when we have a firm understanding of the past. When I read people like Margaret Laurence, I get the sense that she would have been at the front lines of current debates surrounding racial justice and the necessity of the recognition of Indigenous rights. She, like all of us, was writing out of her own context and circumstance and is limited by that, but I think it’s humbling to be reminded that we’re part of an ongoing conversation about the concept of justice and are hopefully always making progress while also recognizing where new forms of injustice are located and never settling the conversation, either with the past or the future.
Spec Can: To wrap up our interview, is there anything further you would like to add?
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay: Thank you so much for the opportunity! This has been a lot of fun!
Spec Can: I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview and share your insights with us.
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay is a PhD Candidate at the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies at Trent University. My main research interests include twentieth century Canadian literature and popular culture, specifically the interaction between political movements/ideologies and expressions of Canadian cultural nationalism(s) in texts written between 1940 and 1990. To this end, I have written and presented papers on the Tragically Hip and Gord Downie through the lens of cultural and celebrity studies. A related interest is in Canadian life-writing and biography in all its forms from across the twentieth century. I am currently working alongside Dr Whitney Lackenbauer, on the editing and publication of an Arctic Memoirs Series which will bring to light previously unpublished memoirs in accessible e-book format.
Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD (They/Them)
I have had the wonderful opportunity to do some writing for SFCanada and as an introductory interview, I was able to interview author and Renaissance Press editor Nathan Caro Frechette.
Here are some quotes from our interview:
“So often, our stories are told by people who’ve never even met a person like us. It’s not just a question of it being annoying or disappointing: it can be downright dangerous for us to be misrepresented.”
“As marginalized people, we tend to come up against huge and frequent barriers in everyday life that prevent us from doing a lot of things, or even existing in some spaces. Because of that, we tend to spend a lot of time thinking about solutions and possibilities that people who have fewer or no barriers would never think about, because those possibilities aren’t missing for them. So I think we have a natural ability to imagine worlds where these barriers are removed or worked around in original fashions.”
“Good representation matters now more than ever.”
“We were also noticing that a lot of the complaints from authors around us included the fact that there was a lot of gatekeeping in the publishing industry preventing marginalized authors from publishing, and since Renaissance was made to elevate the voices of those who were often left behind by the industry, it seemed like a natural conclusion that we would focus on marginalized authors.”
With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak
Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID-19 outbreak?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: I’ve actually been re-discovering a creative exercise that I used to formerly use as a writing warm up. Writing parody lyrics to songs and poems. I have always enjoyed the way that such a bit of work forces you to fit something into a forced structure but take the meaning in a new direction. It becomes something with a familiar pattern and sound, but something new. And often, something humorous.
Early on during Covid-19 isolation, my partner Liz and I started creating parody music videos. I’d write the lyrics, then we’d workshop them into something, record the song, and then make a video. We put out “Stuck In This House Here With You” a parody of the old Steelers Wheel classic. But it’s not just a spoof, there’s a ‘story’ in the tale of two people forced into isolation with one another, initially finding the annoying things about it, and one another, then coming to realize how fortunate they both are to be stuck with THAT special other person.
Our second parody video was a compilation of short parodies of Rogers and Parton’s “Islands in the Stream” (Sharing Broadband Streams), Patsy Cline’s “Walking” (I Go Shoppin’), The Carpenters’ “There’s a Kind of Hush” (You Just Need to Hush), and others, done in the style of an old K-Tel commercial.
I then did short dad jokes converted into short films, and a Cheers-parody of me drinking alone in isolation called Mark’s Tavern.
Those exercises helped keep my creative juices flowing, satisfied the part of my soul that yearns to be a storyteller, but then helped re-clear the path to get back into the prose writing that I had initially been having trouble with when the lockdown and isolation from the pandemic first started.
Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Prior to the social distancing, I spent about 60% of my time working from home anyway, as a writer and a book industry representative. Just under half of my time was spent on the road, traveling to writer conferences, etc. So a lot of that time was spent in airports and hotels.
I do miss the fun of interacting with people in person, with the pleasures that come from exploring different locals, discovering great local micro and craft breweries, etc. So that has been a bit difficult. But I’ve doubled-down on doing virtual interviews with authors, both for my podcast, as well as the regular Draft2Digital live author spotlight interviews I’ve done. I’ve also done live readings and live beer and scotch tastings on my various social media outlets, as well as ongoing dad jokes. Just trying to do my job as a storyteller and entertainer – but that work also, as I mentioned already, reward me intrinsically.
Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?
Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Initially, it was stifling. I was feeling blocked and having difficulty focusing on the writing that I figured I would now have time to do – particularly with the cancelation of all the time-consuming travel. But, as I mentioned, I channeled that creativity into lyrics, music, videos, and that helped path the path to get back into writing.
I also looked at a series I had started and planned on working on a while back, my “Canadian Werewolf” novels, and decided it was time to make some forward progress on it. I had the previous two titles, THIS TIME AROUND (a short story), A CANADIAN WEREWOLF IN NEW YORK (a novel), re-branded with a cover designer I’d had, in time for the launch of the next book in that series STOWE AWAY (novella), as well as two other works in that series. I also invested in getting audiobooks out for them. That exercise has re-inspired me to dig back into the writing of those books.
I have also committed to writing another non-fiction book about the business of writing and publishing (WIDE FOR THE WIN in my Stark Publishing Solutions series to join THE 7 P’S OF PUBLISHING SUCCESS, KILLING IT ON KOBO, and AN AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO WORKING WITH LIBRARIES AND BOOKSTORES is slated for release in early 2021), as well as a couple of non-fiction ghost story books that have been on the back-burner for a while.
And I’m sure that the pandemic, in general, will also inform and inspire more works as time goes on. I think that most writers will agree that a good part of what we do is we absorb things around us, re-adapt the things we experience, see, hear, and feel into fiction, into poetry, into other forms of creativity. I look forward to both writing about, and reading what other writers and artists create from this.
Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD (They/Them)
Mark Leslie Lefebvre is the author of more than twenty books that include fiction and thrillers, and paranormal non-fiction explorations. He has also edited numerous anthologies. With three decades of experience in bookselling and publishing, Mark is a seasoned and trusted book industry professional who embraces both traditional and indie publishing options. His website is: http://www.markleslie.ca.
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)
Congratulations to all of the winners of the 2020 Prix Aurora Awards.
As many of you know, Speculating Canada was nominated again this year for the Best Fan Related Work Category, and congratulations everyone, we won! Speculating Canada started as a way for me to give back to the Canadian SF community and it has been exciting to see it grow and change. It was meant to be a way of creating community and opening up conversations about Canadian Speculative Fiction, and I have been honoured to be part of so many important conversations with all of you authors, fans, publishers, artists, and academics. I am so lucky that we have been able to have the conversations we have and that we have been able to work together toward social change. Although officially my name is listed on this award, it is an award that should reflect all of you as members of this community and reflect all of the work we do together to ask deep questions about SF. I am honoured to have been able to be on this journey with all of you and to continue that journey as we move forward.
Inductees into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame:
Julie Czerneda for The Gossamer Mage
Best Young Adult Novel:
Susan Forest for Bursts of Fire
Best Short Fiction:
Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone for This Is How You Lose The Time War
Best Graphic Novel:
S.M. Beiko for Krampus is my Boyfriend
Tie between Swati Chavda for At The Edge of Space and Time
and Sora for Bursts of Fire
Best Related Work:
Diane Walton for On Spec Magazine
Best Visual Presentation:
The Umbrella Academia
Dan O’Driscoll for covers for Bundoran Press and cover for On Spec 110
Best Fan Writing and Publications:
R. Graeme Cameron
Best Fan Organizational
Marie Bilodeau and Derek Kunsken for Can Con
Best Fan Related Work
Derek Newman-Stille for Speculating Canada
To watch the Prix Aurora Awards ceremonies, hosted this year by When Worlds Collide, click on the link below:
In order to check out the award category for Best Fan Related Work, which Speculating Canada won, click on the link below and see my acceptance speech.
Thank you all for your support and for the support of Canadian Speculative Fiction. Thank you to the folks at When Worlds Collide for hosting the Aurora Awards and thank the Prix Aurora Awards organizational committee for their work. Thank you also to Mark Leslie Lefebvre for being an incredible host for the awards.
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.