A review of Lydia M Hawke’s Becoming Crone (Michem Publishing, 2021). By Derek Newman-Stille
We hear popular, ageist phrases like “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, and “past your prime”. In our society, ageing is presumed to be a process of decline, an increase in loss, and not a time of growth or learning. Yet, of course learning never ends and there are always new and exciting moments of growth and change throughout our lives. Becoming Crone is a revolutionary urban fantasy story because it presents ageing as a time of growth and not decline.
Lydia M Hawke’s Becoming Crone is a coming of age story that reminds us that coming of age is continually happening throughout our lives. Claire has just turned 60. It’s been a year since her divorce and she is expected to define herself exclusively as a grandmother. Her child and in-laws are constantly worried about her health and assuming that she is on the verge of decline. Yet something new is arising in her, a truth that she has denied while she has been complacent in her role of mother and grandmother. She has been seeing crows near her house and messages are arriving for her. She is about to undergo a massive change in lifestyle and begin a new set of learnings. She’s been chosen to be a Crone, a powerful priestess of the Goddess Morrigan. Nothing makes sense for her any more… and yet, in a way, everything makes sense. Suddenly she knows who she is and is becoming who she always needed to be.
Becoming Crone is Lydia M. Hawke’s challenge to ageist tropes and an opening up of new narrative possibilities that challenge the limiting views of women over 60. Hawke engages with social assumptions about ageing while reversing them with a bit of her own magic.
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?
Jay Odjick: Lots of hand washing! Heh! I have mostly been working and working out. Especially now that the weather finally – knock on wood – seems to maybe be getting a bit nicer, my biggest stress relief is lifting outside. I have my weights set up outdoors and it’s nice to break up your day, get some sun and allows me to shut out the world for just a bit, which is important, I think now and then, especially now.
It’s important to stay educated and informed as to what’s going on with the outbreak but I think for us all it can get a bit overwhelming. It’s important to put media, both social and otherwise aside for awhile if and when we need to.
In terms of what I’m working on, I’m writing a graphic novel for Scholastic Canada, a kind of coming of age story about a young First Nations boy, let’s say, much like myself as a child who moves from the U.S to his father’s community and comes to writing and drawing comics. It’s based on my experiences and has been challenging, both reliving stuff from my youth but also a ton of fun. I’m excited to share stories of rez life with people who may have never been to a reserve!
I’ve been doing a video podcast as well at http://twitch.tv/jayodjick – lining up guests for that and trying to acclimate myself to the tech and software involved! Been fun and to date, I’ve had on a biologist with a specialization in ecosystems and a medieval historian to discuss what we can learn from plagues in the past in our current reality as well as how society comes out of these types of things and I thought that was fascinating, especially to learn that might be more uplifting an answer than we’d think. I’ve been learning a lot thru this!
I’ve also been trying to help out as much as I can; I am blessed, in that because I work at home for the majority of my work this affects me less than most people, and I’m still working. If you’d like to learn more about what I’ve been up to in that regard, check me out on Facebook or Twitter! Would love to see you there.
Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?
Jay Odjick: Like I said, I think it really doesn’t affect me as bad as it could and I get that I’m fortunate in that way. Apart from cancelled appearances and speaking engagements, I work from home insofar as writing and illustration. Last year I was working both at the University of Ottawa as a teacher and with the Ottawa Citizen as a freelancer; this year I’m focusing more on creative endeavours, mainly the above mentioned graphic novel as it’s a lengthy project.
Having said that, there are things I miss, just like any and everyone else. Friends and especially family. It’s crazy to think that this is something that, for the first time in my life that I can think of is something that is truly affecting the entire world! Just crazy to think about.
I think one of the things that’s been important for me in this time is perspective. As weird and negative as this time is, it’s helped to focus on the temporary nature of this for me and to look at certain situations from around the world as well as our own past. This hasn’t impacted me financially as much as some and my heart goes out to those who are struggling.
But I try to think about conversations I’ve had with older people who have lived thru wars or a friend of mine who lived thru the Bosnian War and told me what that was like.
Or even looking at things closer to home – I have a digital copy of the paperwork filed for the arrest of my grandfather here in Canada when he was arrested for leaving the reservation without papers. It may get hard, but I can go for a walk without being arrested.
When it feels tough for me, how I feel is valid but it helps to remind me of how resilient people can be and how much we can get thru.
Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?
Jay Odjick: I have to admit..my writing has been impacted by the outbreak and maybe moreso what’s come from it. Media and politicians are being so divisive and we are kind of inundated with negativity and attempts to anger us or again, divide.
At times it is hard to get myself into the right headspace for writing.
It comes and goes but as one example, sometimes at the moment, humor can be tough to write because we know so many ARE suffering or in need.
If I sat down to just CREATE something in this time, I’m fairly certain it might come out a bit dark. Maybe ultimately uplifting but you know, things don’t always work that way – we have deadlines and I have a book to deliver that has priority over writing or even drawing as a form of expression, but I strongly believe in creative expression as catharsis. I should try drawing more, from the heart and not from the head, when I have time.
If you are having a hard time, know that you aren’t alone. We may be isolated but we are all dealing with similar things. Maybe that’s of little comfort but we will come out of this better, I truly believe. Better and stronger and we can use this to come together.
A review of Carolyn Charron’s “Knit One, Purl Two” in Nothing Without Us edited by Cait Gordon and Talia C. Johnson (Renaissance, 2019).
By Derek Newman-Stille
There’s nothing that says ageing like a vampire, yet vampires are often a personification of eternal youth, so they present a conflicted image of age… and simultaneous youth. For some reason, most vampires in our fiction tend to be involved in relationships with young people. This suggests the idea that the physicality of age and the appearance of age are more important in our society than the experiential knowledge of age. Vampires are rarely in relationships with older adults in the stories told about them, yet they should have more in common with an older adult, having collected many years of experience and knowledge.
In “Knit One, Purl Two” Carolyn Charron writes a tale of an older woman who is in a relationship with a vampire, shifting the trope of the vampire story to one that makes more sense – a relationship based on the common experience of age. Along with adorable scenes of Edmund flinching away from the narrator’s wooden knitting needles, Charron writes a tale of a sexually empowered older woman. Older adults, and older women in particular tend to be de-sexualised as they age. Their sexuality is viewed as transgressive. Disabled ageing women are particularly de-sexualised in our culture. Yet, women tend to hit their sexual peak at around age 40, which, although not very aged, is far later than most popular culture represents. Charron’s protagonist is a grandmother, and is sexually active and sexually empowered in her relationship.
Charron brings attention to the way that disabled sex is often different than able bodied sex, requiring a lot more conversation about what works, what doesn’t, what hurts, and what feels right. She needs position her hip in just the right way to make sure that she enjoys sex and that she doesn’t do damage to her body. Charron tells the reader “He always seemed to know when her pain needed quiet and when to end the silence with a dirty joke, making her groan even while she laughed.” Edmund is portrayed as someone who navigates his lover’s body, checking in with her to ensure that he is pleasing.
Charron challenges dominant images of sexuality that associate it with youth and uses the figure of the vampire to critically question the relationship between ageing and sexuality. Vampires are symbols associated with eternal youth, yet Charron’s vampire is grey haired. He reveals that if he doesn’t bite two or three people per month, he ages. Indeed, her protagonist notes “bent and frail-appearing, she’d thought he was a decade older, but now she had no idea. Vampires were supposed to be young, powerful” and by doing so, she brings attention to the way that her narrative challenges dominant notions of age and youth in the vampire narrative, making room for new possibilities that embrace the sexually charged image of the vampire along with its age.
A review of “Flip” (Markosia, Enterprises, 2018) edited by Jack Briglio and featuring work by Derek Kunsken, Wendy Muldon, Eleonora Dalla Rosa, Miguel Jorge, Hugh Rockwood, Alberto Massetti, Marcello Bondi, Francesco Della Santa, and Salvador’s Coppola.
By Derek Newman-Stille
The comic “Flip” offers a series of flashes through different worlds filled with different possibilities, inviting readers to turn the world on its head and look at it differently. Like most Speculative Fiction, even when it is set on a different world, in a different reality, or in the future, it is really about our own world and the things that occupy our imagination, thoughts, and perspectives. “Flip” invites readers to delve into those imaginings, to ask critical questions, and imagine what is not in order to think anew about what is.
The stories in “Flip” bring the reader into worlds where credit card debt is paid back with death, inviting us to think about credit card companies as loan sharks; worlds where people are forced to divorce after only 7 years of marriage, evoking questions about matrimony; worlds where luchadors meld their bodies into those of gorillas to fight, inviting questions of animal violence, human fear, and corporate control; worlds where pensions are saved for the young and people work later in life, inviting questions about age and ageing. There are tales of people meeting between flipped worlds and of choices made and the impact of choices that weren’t made. It is a comic about possibility and change.
“Flip” is a collection of stories that are meant to unsettle, to disrupt, to FLIP reality and let us see it from another angle.
A review of Drew Hayden Taylor’s “A Culturally Inappropriate ArmageddonPart II: Old Men and Old Sayings ” in Take Us to Your Chief And Other Stories (Douglas & McIntyre, 20160.
By Derek Newman-Stille
Indigenous people have been accustomed to alien invasions and the decimation of land and culture and Drew Hayden Taylor adapts the history of colonialism to new frontiers of science fiction in his book Take Us To Your Chief and Other Stories. In A Culturally Inappropriate ArmageddonPart II: Old Men and Old Sayings, Hayden Taylor focusses on an old man, Willie Whitefish, and his experiences of care homes, but, beyond that, he explores Willie’s history of surviving residential schools and his unique ability to see potential warning signs when he hears about an approaching alien space ship. Willie’s history of dealing with a violent, colonial government has prepared him for what he (and the rest of the world) is likely to experience.
Although ignored by most of the PSWs in the care home he is living in, Willie reflects on his knowledge of history “everything from Columbus straight through the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, to the Traill of Tears, to the impact of the sale of Alaska on the Inuit and the Aleutians”. Willie is aware of what happens with the arrival of strangers from a distant place and that it traditionally means mass murders of the indigenous people of a region and the cultural genocide of those people in following generations. He points out that people should know better, but, then again, most of the people welcoming these visitors from the stars have been the colonizers, not the displaced and colonized people and therefore that the people excited about visitors from the stars haven’t paid enough attention to history from an indigenous perspective.
A review of Kate Heartfield’s “Path Of White Stones” in Over The Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales From The Margins (Exile, 2018)
By Derek Newman-Stille
We like to assume that we own our houses – that we select them and buy them and that they become ours… but don’t we also become theirs? Aren’t we swallowed whole by our houses and digested over the years, becoming what they make of us?
Kate Heartfield’s “Path Of White Stones” asks how our houses shape us. Borrowing from tales of old women and their houses like Hansel and Gretel and Baba Yaga, Kate looks at the way that sometimes our ginger bread houses aren’t traps for others, but, rather, they trap us.
Kate explores ageing and “adult living” communities and the way that these communities isolate ageing adults, promising them a get away from the business of everyday living… but illustrates the way that these communities facilitate a separation from the rest of the world and allow bigotries to arise. “Path Of White Stones” asks what happens when people are cut off from the rest of the community and segregated and how this shapes their ideas of selfhood and Otherness.
Kate examines ageing femininity and questions the tropes of the “old woman”, creating a protagonist who is aware of the stereotypes and resistant to simple narratives of selfhood. She uses her tale of ageing, home, and community to invite critical questions about how we understand ways of living while ageing.
A review of Liz Westbrook-Trenholm’s “White Rose, Red Thorns” in Over The Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales From The Margins (Exile, 2018).
By Derek Newman-Stille
Liz Westbrook-Trenholm intertwines multiple fairy tales in her story “White Rose, Red Thorns” while giving complexity to the characters involved. She tells a tale of a giant’s tiny human caretaker and a young thief named Jack who looks far too much like her former lover, Snow, though with male features instead of female.
The giant’s caretaker finds herself trapped between the cruel world of giants in the clouds and the cruel world of humanity below, at home in neither space and always having to hide who she is. Westbrook-Trenholm reminds readers that older women often have to hide their power in order to not be considered threatening for having it, and the giant’s caretaker has to use cunning to make herself seem weaker and more insignificant than she is.
Westbrook-Trenholm tells a tale of loss, mourning, and hiding, but also reveals the hope that can come from letting go of secrets and embracing who you are. “White Rose, Red Thorns” is a beautiful mix of fairy tales, combined in a way that exposes the magical thread that runs through them.
A Review of Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer Vol 2: The Event (Dark Horse, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille
Nothing is quite what it seems in the perfect small town that superheroes Barbalien, Golden Gail, Abraham Slam, Talky Walky, and Colonel Weird, and Madame D have found themselves in. It is a town that is held apart from the rest of the world, surrounded by an energy field… but it is also a town without history, where the history books are blank and everyone seems to just keep repeating the same patterns over and over again.
In Black Hammer Vol. 2: The Event, Jeff Lemire creates a world out of the golden age of superheroes, but he complicates the world, pulling it out of the easy morality of golden age comics and making his superheroes confront realities that they have denied and their own complexities. Barbalien has to deal not only with his disconnect from his home planet Mars, but also with the homophobia that surrounds him and prevents him from being in a relationship with another man. Golden Gail has to face the duality of her identity – young girl when she is in her superhero identity and older woman when she leaves that identity. Here in this village out of time, she finds herself trapped as an eternal child, cut off from her adult identity. Abe (Abraham Slam) faces the opposite experience, flashing back to his experiences as an ageing superhero now considered obsolete and his life in the village where he has created a space of comfort for himself to age away from the superhero scene.Talky Walky, a sentient robotic life form with a taste for adventure has to deal with being trapped in a small space, unable to escape and venture into the wider world. Colonel Weird, a man trapped between worlds, able to see the past and the future, has to confront his knowledge of the future while keeping it secret from those around him. Lucy, the daughter of Black Hammer has found her way into this strange world cut off from her own and lost her memory of the outside world. She has to confront the people she knew before The Event and see how they have changed in this altered world. Meanwhile Madame D tries to maintain this strange bubble of reality and prevent what she fears the most – a supervillain.
Black Hammer Vol 2: The Event is a comic about the effects of battle on the superhero psyche and the damage that it does. It is a tale of repression and avoidance where characters seek to hide from themselves even while they face aspects of their pasts.
Lemire brings attention to classic comic books while adding his own complexities and twists to these worlds, creating uncertain realities and characters who are equally uncertain about exploring them.
A review of Barbara Gowdy’s Little Sister (HarperCollins Publishers, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille
Barbara Gowdy’s Little Sister explores ideas of normative minds and constructions of normative psychology. Fiona has gradually been experiencing progressive dementia, experiencing changes in her memory and perception of the world around her. Her daughter, Rose, begins to experience what she calls “episodes” during every storm. She begins to have breaks in consciousness where she seems to be seeing the world through the eyes of another woman, Harriet. She is uncertain if she is having delusions, hallucinations, migraines, or whether she is actually experiencing the life of another woman and seeing the world through her eyes.
Gowdy examines the plasticity of the mind and questions ideas of the “normal” functioning of the mind by illustrating that the mind is changeable and always shifting. Rose had buried the memory of her sister who died when…
Truths in FictionA review of Kate Story’s “Where Will The Seas Roll Up Their Thunder” in Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories edited by Kelsi Morris and Kaitlin Tremblay (Exile, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille
In “Where Will the Seas Roll Up Their Thunder”, Kate Story speaks through a voice that is underused in fiction in generally, and especially in monster stories – the voice of an older woman who lives in a long term care home. This woman is having a conversation with a student about a topic that is generally unrepresented in fiction featuring older adults – the future. Story still explores ideas of the past and nostalgia, which are firmly connected to the representation of older adults, but she connects these not to the woman’s age, but to her status as a Newfoundlander, interested in Newfoundland history.
Story captures the rambling quality of a good storyteller, willing to make connections between seemingly disparate ideas and willing to go into tangents and rants. She captures the magic of storytelling and links it to exploring the truth behind narratives. She interacts with key features of narrative like the feeling of being chosen (a theme that is over-represented in fantasy narratives) and the problematic quality of this theme and how it stems from a life that seeks significance when being underrepresented as a woman in canonical stories. Her unnamed older woman wants to have made an impact on the world around her, a significant change and not to be easily erased. She interacts with notions of truth and fiction and the assumption that older adults are indulging in fantasy if they mention the strange and unnatural rather than representing truths. Her narrator has access to truths that others ignore. She points out the interweaving of landscape and story by presenting her narrator uncovering truths located beneath the surface of the Newfoundland landscape and things hidden in plain sight.
Story blends science and fantasy in her narrative, giving a new origin story for the tales of dragons and connecting past and future in a cycle of death and rebirth.
Story connects the skepticism of the student researcher to the possibility of truth in a narrative inside of what seems to be a folkloric story. She highlights the multiplicity of truths and points out that “truth” itself is a story, always subject to revisions and changes.