Earlier this year, I came across a kickstarter that I just had to support. In addition to my work on Speculating Canada, I teach writing classes, so I am always on the lookout for new and exciting ways to teach. I have a particular interest in teaching through games and play. So, when I saw the Kickstarter for The Story Engine by Peter Chiykowski I thought it would be a fun way of engaging my students in another method of storytelling. The Story Engine involves a set of cards that can be used for writing inspiration. They are divided into multiple different types of cards that are meant to be used together: agent cards, engine cards, anchor cards, conflict cards, and aspect cards. Together they make up fundamental parts of a story and allow for the development of writing prompts.
I bought The Story Engine itself as well as the many booster packs that come with it. These include: horror, fantasy, science fiction, eldritch horror, dystopian fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, mythology, cyberpunk, and steampunk. The booster packs can either be used separately for genre stories or mixed in with the main Story Engine to give different flavours to the original stories.
If you are more of a visual person, each card also comes with an image that can either enhance the language of the card or provide you with some visual inspiration. As someone who collects images for my stories, I thought this was a powerful starter for those who enjoy image-based story development.
I have spent most of the day playing with these various decks in The Story Engine and have found them incredibly fun and a great way to get creative ideas flowing. I think The Story Engine will be a powerful teaching tool, especially around genre fiction and will allow students to engage differently with aspects of the story. The different categories of cards such as agents and engine cards will help students to think about the various aspects of story like characters, motivations, drive, and conflict. The cards also seem like a powerful tool for getting through writer’s block and the playful aspect of it takes off some of the stress associated with being blocked.
I wanted to share some samples of writing prompts that I have created using The Story Engine to illustrate the adaptability and fun of the deck:
– An underworld God wants to save a loved one by using a hardwired cult, but they will likely lose their life.
– A corporate addict wants to gain the power of a gilded drop of blood, but they will lose part of their humanity.
– An arcane teacher wants to stop being haunted by a rave, but they will lose their closest friend.
– An oracle wants to save the world from a protective mecha but it will mean forever living a lie.
For these prompts, I mixed in the booster packs with the original deck and then just drew them at random. It felt like a fun way to develop some strange and unique stories.
She was dressed in street clothes, which was really unusual for Dr. Townsend’s practice. Generally her clients came dressed in their full regalia instead of as their secret identity.
“Hi, are you the shrink?”
“I’m Dr. Townsend, yes.”
“But you’re the one that works with people like us, right?”
“People like us?”
“You know, magical girls.”
“Oh, yes. It’s just that normally my clients come dressed in their full regalia. I’m known as the ‘magical girl counsellor’, so most people come in costume so that they don’t expose their secret identity. I wasn’t sure that you were here for me.”
“That’s sort of what I am here for… you see, I can’t transform any more. I can’t access my abilities…. like, at all. But that’s not all. I was still trying to fight villains without my powers and ended up getting… hurt…. and then when I was at the hospital, I told them about being a magical girl and they had me sent to psychiatric. They didn’t keep me there for long, but they let me out on the condition that I would see a shrink.”
Magical girls weren’t something unusual, so it seemed strange to Dr. Townsend that someone would disbelieve this client. Superheroes sometimes lost their powers and for some magical girls, their powers disappeared at adulthood. So, this isn’t something completely strange or unbelievable and certainly not a reason to send her to the psychiatric ward.
“That’s strange. Everyone knows that magical girls exist. We’re pretty well known. It’s strange that they wouldn’t believe you.”
“That’s right. You were one of us, right? A magical girl?”
It was a tough topic. Dr. Townsend was still struggling with her identity and whether she made the right decision to become a counsellor for magical girls. She knew it was important. Magical girls go through so much trauma and there aren’t adequate supports available. Besides, how could someone with no experience of the kind of trauma magical girls went through be able to help them?
“Yes, I was Athene. I decided that I wanted to help other magical girls with their trauma, so I became a counsellor.”
The client fiddled with the collar of her shirt, looking uncomfortable. “So… there’s a reason why they didn’t believe me and you might not believe me either. You know how the holidays are coming up?”
“Well, my powers are sort of related to the holidays.”
“Okay” Dr. Townsend was letting the pauses work for her. She had learned that one of the best ways to get clients to talk was to be quietly supportive and let the client fill in the silence.
“Ugh, this is so embarrassing. My superhero name is Holly Jolly.” The client looked at Dr. Townsend, waiting for the inevitable response and decided to fill in the blanks first, “I know, you’ve never heard of me. No one has. It’s part of the magic that makes me a magical girl. So, my powers are connected to the holidays, particularly to Christmas… well, really to Yule, but it’s sort of melded into Christmas. So, the same magic that makes you not believe in Santa… also means you can’t believe in me. Anyone adult finds out about me forgets it after a day or so. It’s like adult brains can’t hold the belief that sustains my magical powers.”
Dr. Townsend leaned forward, curious. She hadn’t heard about powers manifesting in this way. Normally there was a bit of a separation between the secret civilian identity and the magical girl personal, but for people to actually forget about the magical girl persona entirely was a bit strange. Plus, Holly Jolly looked like she was at least in her mid 20s. So, how did the magic work for her?
And wait a minute… did she say that Santa Claus is real?
“I know what you are thinking. This can’t be true. Especially given how old I am – how do I remember my secret identity? Well, it’s the same thing that happens with Santa Claus. He’s able to hold onto his memories of who he is too.”
“I have to admit…. I’m having a hard time getting my mind around all of this.”
“You mean that you’re having a hard time believing it. Trust me, if it didn’t happen to me, I don’t know whether I’d believe it myself. But the thing is, I have seen it with my own eyes. I’ve seen Santa. I’ve seen myself transform. I have to believe it because it’s literally happened to me. It’s part of the whole Yule magic thing. Santa used to be called the Yule Lord in old pagan cultures. He presided over the winter solstice and was in charge of fighting off the monstrosities that would appear on the solstice and making sure the sun rose. Remember, the winter solstice is the longest night of the year and most cultures have invested it with ideas of fear – ghost stories, monsters like Grylla and Krampus…. It’s been sanitized in North America into a capitalist celebration of presents and so many of you have forgotten the holiday’s roots. Along with Santa, there has always been a little snow maiden, a magical girl invested with powers of light to fight off the darkness and protect young people from the things that go bump in the longest night.”
Dr. Townsend always nodded when clients were talking. It was a way to encourage them to continue talking, but she was having trouble actually processing what Holly Jolly was saying. It just seemed so unbelievable. But it was clear that her client believed in all of this and that she was convinced she was telling the truth… and maybe it was truth to her. Dr. Townsend believed that a counsellor should be able to support everyone, but she admitted to herself that this felt way over what she could support her client with. She hadn’t worked with clients with delusions like this before.
“I know, I know, it doesn’t seem believable, does it?”
“To be honest, I am having a lot of trouble believing it, you’re right. But that doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you believe it and that it is something important to you.”
“Which is a really polite way of saying ‘all of this is beyond my paygrade and I am trying hard to appease you because I think you’re dangerously nuts.'”
“No. I don’t think I would put it like that. I do admit that I am a little out of my element, but I want to be here to support you and I’m not afraid of you. I don’t think you have any interest in harming me and you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want support. So, I’m here to listen to you and support you and I will try to put my inner judger aside so I can listen cleanly to what you have to say.”
“Thank you. I really wish I could demonstrate my power to you, but that’s sort of the reason I’m here. Yes, I’m here because the hospital wanted me to get counselling, but I’m also here because I am hoping you will help me get my powers back. Something is blocking them and I can’t seem to access them.” Dr. Townsend opened her mouth to speak, but once again Holly Jolly anticipated what she was going to say “And no, I don’t think that my inability to access my powers is because my powers are a delusion. I think it’s because I’ve become a cynical adult. I got my powers when I was around 10 and I had so much belief in Santa Claus. I stayed up all night waiting for him and he suddenly appeared. He told me that I was a true believer and that I had the light of belief that could bring light into the world and fight off the darkness around the holidays. He brought out a snowglobe that showed me all of the horrors of the world and also showed him fighting off those horrors flying in his sled filled with reindeer.”
“I’m going to ask a question to help myself understand and I don’t want to seem like I’m dismissing your story because I know it’s important to you… but how does Santa deliver all of the presents to the whole world in one night? Especially since I know that my sister and her partner buy all of the presents for their kids and there are no surprise presents or ones they can’t account for… and what about poverty. Is Santa so cruel that he doesn’t give presents to poor children?”
Holly Jolly laughed, a high, piercing tinkle of a laugh that felt perfect for the persona she expressed. “Oh, no. Santa doesn’t bring presents. That’s another of those changes to the story to make him more appealing to capitalist North America. No. He’s an embodiment of the spirit of joy, which is why he became associated with presents – something that brings joy. But really, he harnesses all of that joy in order to fight off the creatures of darkness that I talked about. He’s not a present-bringer, but I suppose he does inspire people to buy presents for each other as a way of celebrating joy and family and all of the things that keep them safe from the darkness all around them. He’s really just a magical creature that uses light to fight monsters.”
Dr. Townsend didn’t know what to say. She had asked for an explanation and that explanation seemed to work for Holly Jolly, so she wanted to acknowledge that. “Thank you for sharing that and opening up about your experience. You had mentioned that Santa came to you when you were 10 and showed you the monsters of the world in his snowglobe… could you tell me a little bit more about your experience?”
“Sure. Of course. Once I saw the monsters, I told him that I wanted to do something about them but I wasn’t strong enough. I told him that I was just a little girl and how could someone like me make any changes. He told me that little girls had incredible powers for fighting off monsters – that we did it in our sleep when we fought nightmares and that our belief together helped to hold off all of the monsters. ‘You have been fighting monsters your whole life and you didn’t even know it’ he said. He told me that all I had to do was access that power of belief in myself and the collective belief of all of the other children out there and I could show the power that was already inside me and take the battle out on the streets to protect children. He passed me a candy cane and told me… actually, Dr., do you have a candy cane. I may as well check here.”
“To see if the magic came back.”
“Oh. Yes, I have a few here. I love the holiday season and I adore the taste of peppermint.” Dr. Townsend ruffled through a drawer and pulled out a miniature candy cane “Is this one okay? It’s a little small.”
“Yes, that’s perfect. I’m assuming that like most of us, you have a magical object that you use to transform with?”
Dr. Townsend nodded. She was uncomfortable with being asked about the life she left behind, but really that life was the reason she became a counsellor. She was just still struggling with her decision and whether she could justify no longer protecting the world as Athene in order to do her current work.
“So, candy canes are my magical object. Any candy cane, really. I suspect the magical girls that worked with the Yule Lord before me used to have some other object to transform, but Santa never told me what it was. He never really gave me any details about previous magical girls that worked for him and now I think that I could have really benefitted from that information – it could explain what is going on now. Maybe this just happens to the girls who work with him.” She shook her head, “Sorry, let me get back to it. He told me to spin around, holding the candy cane out in front of me like this” She began spinning, “And then to say” she raised her voice to a yell “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.”
Dr. Townsend could swear she briefly saw some kind of glitter or sparkle around the candy cane when Holly Jolly recite her magical girl transformation phrase. Yes, it was just the lyrics of the song Jingle Bells, but something about the way she said it made it feel…. more than that. It felt like it wasn’t just lyrics, but a transformation spell.
Holly Jolly stopped spinning. She looked down as though she hoped that she had lifted off the ground. Dr. Townsend knew the look. It was the same one she did when she transformed into Athene and began floating as part of her transformation. Holly Jolly looked at her nails as though expecting them to glitter and then looked down as though expecting her magical girl costume to appear. She looked disappointed, but not surprised.
“I’m so sorry” Dr. Townsend said.
“Me too” She sighed, “I really didn’t expect it to work, but I really hoped, you know?”
“I definitely understand.”
Dr. Townsend struggled with whether she should tell HollyJolly about the glitter. Was it even real or was it just a shared delusion? Or perhaps just the way that the light caught on the wrapper of the candy cane?
“Well, anyway, when I recited the words – and yes, I know that they are a common song, but there is a different way of saying them – I suddenly smelled ginger bread cookies and eggnog and peppermint and I floated off the ground and there was a whirl of green and red glitter and the candy cane became a large magic staff and my pajamas became a red and green puffy dress (i know, so femme… and honestly it looked like an ugly Christmas sweater pattern of Christmas trees, but I loved it. It felt perfect for me). Santa told me that each outfit comes from the snow maiden’s imagination and served as armour no matter how it looked. Mine looked like it was knitted from wool, but was stronger than steel. Santa took me out that night and we immediately began fighting monsters – no training. I just somehow knew how to move, how to access my candy cane staff’s powers, how to call up helper elves from the otherworld. All of the knowledge just appeared in my head. It was important that it did because Santa was busy fighting the whole night and wouldn’t have had time to teach me. I was blasting shadows and demons away like a pro without even having picked up a textbook or gone to a workout. It was exhilarating. I just knew this was what I was meant to do.”
Dr. Townsend could see that look in Holly Jolly’s eyes – that look of having been touched by magic, of having seen things that others couldn’t understand… and that look of trauma and pain that came with having to grow up too fast and become a warrior.
“It sounds like your job meant a lot to you.”
“It really did. It was my everything. Unlike Santa, I kept my powers throughout the year instead of just being invested with them on one night, so I continued to take my candy cane and become Holly Jolly and fight back the monsters that attacked children… and, of course, I got no credit for it. Kids weren’t believed when they saw me. Adults couldn’t see me. I couldn’t be captured on film. When adults did see me, something would click in their heads so that they couldn’t remember it. I wonder if that is finally what happened to me. I still have the power of belief. I have to have the power of belief because I’ve seen it, but I’ve lost something. There’s something vital that is missing. I don’t know how I held onto whatever it was into my 20s, but it’s faded now.”
“What was it like to lose your abilities?”
“Well, I lost them a few months ago. Like, in the middle of summer, so nowhere near the holidays. I just got off of my shift at the coffee shop and I pulled out a candy cane and said my magical words and did the same gestures as always… and nothing… I just stood there in my barista outfit. I figured it was just a fluke. I was probably just too tired. It had been a long day full of terrible customers demanding and complaining. So, I tried the next night… still nothing. And then the next and the next and…” she shrugged.
“Had anything changed on that first night? Anything new or unusual?”
“Not really. Customers are always dicks and I still always found a way to become Holly Jolly. There were a few nasty ones… and oh god, there was one lady that was complaining that the mall didn’t have any Christmas stuff available and she ‘had to get to buying presents’. It was just consumerism overload.”
“Now that’s interesting.”
“What do you mean?”
“What inspired you to bring up the story about that woman wanting to buy presents?”
“I don’t know. It just stuck out for me.”
“What do you think made it stick out?”
“Well, I just hate seeing how commercialized everything is. I hate seeing people put themselves into debt just to have better presents than the person next to them. I hate seeing all of the anger and the violence – especially around things like Black Friday – and I was just thinking to myself ‘oh fuck, it’s starting even earlier. It’s not even August and we have to deal with this already’.”
“Interesting. Your power is associated with Christmas… and your powers happened to stop working around a time when you saw rampant consumerism. Do you think there could be a connection?”
Holly Jolly sat back in her chair, looking up at the ceiling, her feet dangling off of the floor. Dr. Townsend hadn’t realized how short she was until this moment.
“Ya, just… wow. It seems pretty obvious now. I’ve been thinking that my powers could be gone because of adult cynicism, but to now attach it to a specific moment… this is something.”
Dr. Townsend smiled. She really felt like she was on to something with Holly Jolly. If she really was a magical girl, and Dr. Townsend still had her doubts, maybe this would let her access her magical self.
“I have been thinking a lot about how commercialized the holidays are. I know, I sound like an old woman complaining about how things were so much better when I was young… but I feel like maybe they were. Or maybe I just didn’t notice how terrible things were and how terrible people were. I was probably so enthralled with the presents and treats that it all just seemed so joyful. But I guess I’ve been seeing the misery of the season more and more each year as I’ve grown up… and working in a coffee shop at the mall doesn’t help. Now all I see is the rampant consumerism and it just fills me with disgust. Do you know that I can’t even listen to Christmas music any more? It fills me with disgust. I used to love it. I used to love listening to Nat “King” Cole, Perry Como, and Bing Crosby… and after a few months of hearing it blare while people complained, I just developed this total distaste about it all.”
“So, now that we’ve discovered that, how are we going to proceed?”
“I don’t know. You’re the shrink. What do you think I should do?”
“Well, it’s clear that you still want to be a magical girl… you still do, right?”
“Absolutely. Like I said, I was hospitalized trying to fight a ring of kidnappers without my powers. I still want to fight crime and make things better for kids…. I might even want that now more than ever since I’ve seen so many of the horrors that have happened to kids.”
“Can you tell me about how you have felt about that knowledge of all of the horrors out there for kids?”
“It just… it eats away at me every day. I look out at the people around me and all I see are people harming children. I know, I know, not all of them are harming children, but it’s just that I’ve seen so much of it. I’ve seen so many of them subjected to violence. Santa gave me my powers to fight monstrous things… but he didn’t teach me about how to deal with monstrous people. I’m not even sure I was supposed to start fighting them… but what’s the difference between a big fanged, ogre and an abusive parent. In fact, at least the kid can get away from an ogre potentially and be safe in their home… if they have an abusive parent how can they ever be safe? Home is totally taken away from them and they have to live in fear ever hour of every day.”
“I know how you feel. I’ve seen so many horrors in my time as Athene.”
“And the police do nothing. They don’t get involved. They tell people that a parent has the right to discipline their child or they say that there isn’t enough evidence… or they just don’t even bother showing up.”
“It sounds like this is very personal to you. I am going to ask you a question that may be triggering and you can feel free to not tell me right now… but are you an abuse survivor as well?”
Holly Jolly leaned back in her chair and spoke in a quiet voice. “Honestly, that’s what hurts the most about this. I always used my powers as a way of escaping from him, as a way of getting away from the violence. I knew I could do something to protect all of those other kids… but I couldn’t do anything to protect myself. I had the power to. I was able to fight so many abusers… but for some reason, with him… I couldn’t. I would just freeze. I would curl into a little ball and just allow him to hit me. It was like I was somewhere else while it happened… like I could leave my body. I honestly think that Santa chose me because of it… because of the abuse. I think he knew that fighting for children was important to me on a vital, personal level. And I loved the holidays because he was always away. He managed a resort and would have to work through the holidays, so I was always on my own with my magic and imagination. It was that holiday feeling that would keep me surviving throughout the year. I always retreated into my imagination when he beat me, always imagined myself at Santa’s workshop. And then I grew up. I left home when I was 17, got a job at a diner and had a tiny apartment.”
“I’m so sorry that you went through all of that. It sounds like your childhood self was a powerful person. What would you say to that childhood self if you could?”
“I- I don’t know” tears filled her eyes, “I think I would tell her that it gets better and that she doesn’t have to live with it forever. I think I would tell her that we eventually get away from him.”
“I can’t help but notice how powerful she was and how much work she did to help you survive.”
“It doesn’t always feel like that. I sometimes feel like I just kept screwing up and finally lucked out when I found a way out.”
“Notice what you said: when you found a way out. That was all you. You did it. You got out. You kept yourself alive. Isn’t that a huge accomplishment?”
“I suppose… Yes, you’re probably right. I guess I really was a survivor. I’m just so… I feel so ugh about the fact that I had to literally hide in myself to get through it all, you know?”
“Hey, it’s a survival technique. It helped you get through it. Your imagination helped you get through it.”
And maybe it still is Dr. Townsend couldn’t help but think.
“You’re right. It really did. I wouldn’t have been able to get through all of that without that imagination. Let me guess, next you’re going to tell me to get in touch with my inner child?”
“Does that feel like something that you would benefit from?”
“Probably. But I bet it takes a long time.”
“It does. But you’ve taken the first step. We can keep working together while you find out more about yourself.”
“That would be wonderful, but I’m hoping that this was enough for me to become my magical girl self again.”
“Therapy doesn’t happen like that. It takes time. And even if you are able to become your magical girl self, we still likely need to continue working on these changes. You’ve opened up a lot and opening up this kind of trauma without working through it can be harmful. We can keep working together. I work on a sliding scale, so I can adjust my fees to support you.”
“Ah, the problem is, like I said, when I become Holly Jolly, you will forget everything you know about me and my magical girl persona.”
Dr. Townsend looked down at her notes. There is no way that she would forget any of this. This was something she would need to process for a long time.
“Can you pass me that candy cane again?”
“Of course, but I really think you should consider waiting until we work through more of this.”
“I can’t. Children are in danger just like I was and I can only do something to protect them with my powers. I couldn’t do much without them other than get myself sent to the hospital. I need to be Holly Jolly.”
Dr. Townsend slid the candy cane across the table. Admittedly, she was curious about whether Holly Jolly’s story was true and whether she would transform. She found herself wanting the story to be true. There was definitely something of her own inner child wanting to believe that holiday miracles like this could happen. And, honestly, how different was this from all of the other transformations she’d seen. How was this any different from being bestowed with powers by a Greek God or being an alien princess who came to earth or developing the powers of a witch? Was this that far fetched?
Holly Jolly stood up and held the cane out far in front of her and began spinning “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way”.
The candy cane in her hands began to twirl and grow, the red and white stripes unravelled from it and twisted around her body, red and green glitter surrounded the young woman and there was a smell of baked goods in the air. She stopped spinning and there stood what looked like a Christmas elf right out of a mall Santa display.
Holly Jolly winked and it seemed like there was a star next to her eye.
Dr. Townsend sat back in her chair and slowly exhaled. When she inhaled, she could smell peppermint. She caught herself smiling.
There was a faint ringing of bells and she looked down at her notes. They were blank. She looked over at her phone and it read 5:30. It seemed her new client hadn’t shown up. Well, it was up to them to come in if they needed the support. She would ask her receptionist to follow up and see if they could schedule a new appointment time.
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)