Haunted by Secrecy

A review of Robin Riopelle’s Deadroads: A Novel of Supernatural Suspense (Night Shade Books, 2014).

Cover photo for Deadroads courtesy of http://robinriopelle.com/

Cover photo for Deadroads courtesy of http://robinriopelle.com/

The Acadian Grand Derangement or Great Expulsion was a time of loss and displacement when people were uprooted and disconnected from their origins. Robin Riopelle brings these themes forward into the present in her novel Deadroads: A Novel of Supernatural Suspense, exploring an Acadian-Cajun family struggling with this continual state of disconnectedness, loss, and identity crisis. Like the ghosts they hunt, the Sarazzins are defined by their displacement, by their uprootedness and the confusion resulting from it. They are cut off from their past, isolated by secrecy about their own history.

When their mother left with their sister, Lutie, Baz and Sol had to be raised by their father, a man who wanted to erase the memory of their mother to ease his own pain and to feel stable. Sol had followed his father’s erasure of the past despite his constant defiance of the man, but Baz seeks to bind his family back together, to recover his own roots by finding the rest of his family. After their father dies, Baz seeks out Lutie, who has been living with a foster family since their mother died. Lutie has lost knowledge of her family’s ability to lay ghosts, to send them onto the deadroads to the afterlife. Her foster family saw her affinity with ghosts as a sign of mental illness, medicating her to suppress her ability, but Lutie has maintained a belief that she could control the ghosts, that she could turn them into her pets… the same issue that caused their mother to leave in the first place when she decided to keep a ghost despite their father’s insistence that ghosts should be sent on to their place of rest.

Suppressed by medication and a culture of disbelief, Lutie’s family knowledge was rendered mythic and lost. But when Baz makes a deal with a demon to find his lost sister, these siblings are reunited and a process of recovery can begin. Baz and Sol, both wanderers, perpetually drawn to the road by the desire to escape from overwhelming responsibility, are brought back to their sister, reunited as a family seeking to discover secrets about a past that was obscured by time and by a history of hiding information “for their own good.”

Deadroads is a novel about the interconnection between family responsibility and secrets, and the ability for secrets to pull a family apart and continue to haunt the lives of all of them with the absence of memory. Ghost hunting pulled the Sarazzins apart, but also brought their family back together, allowing them to begin the process of recovery through a shared notion of protection and discovery.

Angels and demons, the dead and the living, everything is a potential threat in this novel, inscribed with danger and needing to both be kept secret and to keep secrets from. Deadroads is a novel marked by uncertainty and characters coping with a deficit of knowledge and the danger that knowledge can bring to them.

To find out more about Robin Riopelle, visit her website at http://robinriopelle.com/

Advertisements

Interview with Timothy Carter

An Interview with Timothy Carter by Derek Newman-Stille

As you have probably noticed from a lot of the reviews that I have conducted as well as the questions that I ask authors, I have a strong interest in the power of SF to ask powerful social questions and challenge prejudices. I was incredibly happy that Timothy Carter agreed to do an interview here and talk about the power of YA fiction to challenge preconceptions and present new ways of thinking about the world.

Spec Can: Could you tell readers a little bit about yourself to start this interview?

Author photo courtesy of Timothy Carter

Author photo courtesy of Timothy Carter

Timothy Carter: I am Timothy Carter – author, cat servant, and lover of a good cup of tea. And Transformers. I’m such a fanatic for those guys. And Doctor Who. Big genre fanboy, that’s me. I love it, and I create it. My main output could be called humorous young adult fantasy. I call it far-fetched fiction. I hope and plan to entertain young minds with my stories for as long as I live, and hopefully well beyond that.

Spec Can: A lot of your work features the image of the bully. What is the importance of the bully to current Canadian society and how can authors like yourself help people to think about the bullying phenomenon?

Timothy Carter: A lot of my protagonists/heroes are kids who are the victims of bullying, yes. One of the oldest bits of writing advice is to write what you know, and I know a lot about bullies. My characters overcome their tormentors the way I never could.

I don’t write about bullies or bullying, however. There isn’t a story I’ve written that I could point to and say, “That one’s about bullying.” I may do, one day, but for now I’ve simply presented bullying as something my characters put up with. As an unfortunate aspect of life. Something wrong, but normal.

And I rarely present resolution to those situations. My bully characters do not often face the consequences for their actions (the obvious exception being Barnaby from Epoch, who well and truly got what was coming to him), which for me is a truthful way of depicting bullying in general. School officials can brag about their zero-tolerance policies all they want, but that won’t change very much. You can’t just wipe something like bullying out with a hastily-concocted policy; you need to understand why it happens. Why is it so much fun to cause another person pain? And why do we secretly despise the victim? We reward strength and look down on those who are weak, an attitude that encourages (and rewards) bullying. Changing an attitude that’s been with humankind long before we called ourselves civilized… well, I can plant the idea in readers’ heads, but it will take a lot more to get society to act on it.

Spec Can: A  lot of your work features images of magic and people who use magic. Why is magic of so much interest to readers?

Timothy Carter: Why is magic of such interest? Because we don’t have any. Did you notice how that last sentence began with ‘because?’ I did that just to annoy my English teachers.

Getting back to the topic at hand, people love to read about stuff they don’t have. We love spy novels because secret agents have cool skills, nifty gadgets, and interesting lives. We read about knights because they’re all noble and heroic and they hack people up with swords. Science fiction stories have space ships and ray guns (unless they are written by Real, Serious Hard SF authors, who will insist on calling such things Starships and Level Seventeen Phase Disruptors).

And fantasy stories often have magic. And we don’t. But wouldn’t it be cool if we did?

Spec Can: Your novel Evil?  features a boy who has recently come out of the closet as gay. What is the importance of teen readers reading about a gay-oriented character?

Cover photo of Evil? courtesy of Timothy Carter

Cover photo of Evil? courtesy of Timothy Carter

Timothy Carter: When I was in my early teens, I thought the idea of someone being gay was funny and wrong: funny, because everyone would tell jokes about them; and wrong, because that’s what my church youth group leaders told me I was supposed to believe. I started to question these notions in my late teens, and concluded there was nothing strange or wrong with gay people by the time I reached adulthood. I really regret that it took me so long. It really should not have done. If I’d had a book like Evil to read back in my teen years, it might have helped me see beyond the stupidity and hate a lot sooner.

When I wrote Evil, I needed a gay character for the sake of the plot. I did not, however, consider Evil to be a ‘gay’ novel. It was important to me that Evil be a YA fantasy that happened to feature a gay character, so I could show readers that being gay was no big deal. Stuart’s sexual orientation was an aspect of his character, but it wasn’t his defining characteristic.

The more YA books there are with gay characters, the more young readers will see that being gay is just as acceptable as being straight.

Spec Can: A lot of your work features the figure of the monster, and often challenges the people good / monsters bad dichotomy. What is the importance of monsters in teen fiction and why are morally ambiguous monsters so significant?

Timothy Carter: Monsters aren’t normal, and neither am I! And by normal I mean average and everyday. I like to play around with people’s expectations, suggest one thing and present the exact opposite. People expect monsters to be evil, pure and simple. Especially demons. People also assume that angels are always good. I love writing villainous angels! And I enjoy playing with the notion of what a demon is. Fon Pyre from Evil was a fun character to write.

In teen fiction, monsters are useful as metaphors. Anyone who has seen an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has seen this done extremely well. It’s fairly simple to replace a brooding loner with a vampire, the football team with a pack of trolls, the cheerleaders with elves or fairies, or puberty with lycanthropy. A monster gives you the opportunity to write about Issues without being so obvious about it.

Spec Can: What are some of the most important questions that you hope your work will open up in readers’ minds?

Timothy Carter: I hope to encourage readers to question the world around them. Especially authority. People don’t get to tell you what to do ‘just cuz.’

I hope to get readers to look at the world differently. Things aren’t always what they seem, or mean what we think they mean. An angel could be your greatest enemy, the loser you pick on your bravest hero. Popular opinion doesn’t have to be your opinion, and your point of view matters just as much as anyone else’s.

I also try and point out that the world should not be taken very seriously. Have a laugh, have some fun, and try not to get all worked up about things because most of it won’t matter in a year or so.

Spec Can: How much do your own spiritual or religious beliefs influence your writing?

Timothy Carter: Completely. I don’t think there is a story I’ve written that wasn’t influenced by my spiritual side. I have a lot of strong feelings about religion, and a great interest in metaphysics. I love to use religious and spiritual concepts (like Heaven and Hell, angels and demons, the soul and karma) in my fiction. The subject matter is inspirational, and I still have a lot to say about it.

Spec Can: Your novel Evil? deals with issues of prejudice and the spread of hatred. How can writing about hate crimes help society to prevent hate crimes and become more accepting of diversity?

Timothy Carter: Writing about hate crimes will get them further into the public eye, for sure. There is a danger, however, in writing a “hate crime book.” You never want to go into the writing process thinking “I’m going to write a novel about (insert Issue here).” Young readers are savvy and know when they are being preached to. I like to have morals and lessons come about on their own, rather than saying “In chapter 12, Dylan will learn a valuable lesson about sharing!”

Of course, if you want certain subjects to come up in your story, you can increase the chances of that happening naturally by putting the right characters in there. I wanted to have a go at homophobia when I was writing Evil, so I introduced Reverend Feltless into the mix. He did exactly what it was in his nature to do, and the story dealt with homophobia without that issue interfering in a ‘lesson’ sort of way.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you plan your book to be a “Johnny Learns About Hate Crimes” story, the message will likely feel forced. If one of your characters has a penchant for prejudice, their interaction with the others should bring it out of them in a more subtle, organic way.

Spec Can: Is there anything else you would like to add to this interview?

Timothy Carter: After all that, you want more? Gee wizz, man. I got a home to go to! 😉 There is one thing I’d like to ask of your readers – if you like an author’s work, don’t keep it to yourself. A lot of writers are struggling, and desperate for some attention. Give it to them! Like their Facebook pages. Follow their Twitter feeds. Leave comments on their blog posts. I say this not just for my own benefit (but BTW, my website is www.timothycarterworld.com ), but for a lot of author friends I have who work so very hard to get their words out. No writer wants to get that letter that tells them their book is going out of print due to lack of sales (I have. Evil & Epoch are toast, and The Cupid War is limping). Tell your friends and family about your favourite authors. Write reviews of their work on Goodreads. And please keep asking them to do interviews! Which reminds me, thanks for this one.

 

I want to thank Timothy Carter for this fantastic interview and his many insights on the ability of SF to challenge taken-for-granted notions of the way the world “has to be”. If you haven’t had a chance to check out Timothy Carter’s website yet, you can explore it at http://timothycarterworld.com/ .

And I second Mr. Carter’s sentiment at the end of this interview. You can do a great service to authors by reviewing their books, checking out their websites, blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds. Authors are an incredible resource, and it is great to show them our support. 

Upcoming interview with Timothy Carter on Thursday, February 7th

I met Timothy Carter in October during Can Con, an Ottawa-based Speculative Fiction Conference (http://www.can-con.org/). Timothy gave a fantastic talk and I knew that I wanted to share some of his insights with all of you on Speculating Canada. He, fortunately, agreed to do an interview and share some brilliant insights with all of you.

Timothy Carter author, cat servant, and lover of tea shares his insights on humorous YA fantasy, the bullying phenomenon, writing Queer or LGBTQ2 characters, creating ambiguous characters, writing monsters, religion and supernatural fiction, the power of humour to question the taken-for-granted, the ability of fiction to challenge authority, writing good YA without being preachy, and writing about hate crimes.

Here are a few teasers from the upcoming interview on Thursday Febdurary 7th:

Timothy Carter: “A lot of my protagonists/heroes are kids who are the victims of bullying. One of the oldest bits of writing advice is to write what you know, and I know a lot about bullies. My characters overcome their tormentors the way I never could.”

Timothy Carter: “School officials can brag about their zero-tolerance policies all they want, but that won’t change very much. You can’t just wipe something like bullying out with a hastily-concocted policy; you need to understand why it happens. Why is it so much fun to cause another person pain? And why do we secretly despise the victim? We reward strength and look down on those who are weak, an attitude that encourages (and rewards) bullying.”

Timothy Carter: “The more YA books there are with gay characters, the more young readers will see that being gay is just as acceptable as being straight.”

Timothy Carter: “Monsters aren’t normal, and neither am I! And by normal I mean average and everyday. I like to play around with people’s expectations, suggest one thing and present the exact opposite. People expect monsters to be evil, pure and simple. Especially demons. People also assume that angels are always good. I love writing villainous angels!”

Timothy Carter: “A monster gives you the opportunity to write about Issues without being so obvious about it.”

Timothy Carter: “I hope to encourage readers to question the world around them. Especially authority.”

Timothy Carter: “I like to have morals and lessons come about on their own, rather than saying ‘In chapter 12, Dylan will learn a valuable lesson about sharing!’”

Timothy Carter: “I guess what I’m saying is, if you plan your book to be a “Johnny Learns About Hate Crimes” story, the message will likely feel forced. If one of your characters has a penchant for prejudice, their interaction with the others should bring it out of them in a more subtle, organic way.”

I hope that you get a chance to check out this interview and that you enjoy Mr. Carter’s insights as much as I did. If you haven’t had a chance to read my review of Timothy Carter’s YA novel Evil, you can check it out at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/bullying-bodies-and-baddies/ . You may also want to check out Timothy Carter’s website at http://timothycarterworld.com/

It’s the End Of The World As We Know It, and I Feel Speculative

A review of OnSpec #90, Vol 24, No. 3 Fall 2012 Apocalypse Special Issue.

Cover image courtesy of On Spec

Cover image courtesy of On Spec

By Derek Newman-Stille

On Spec, with their combination of SF stories and non-fiction SF essays and interviews, never fails to be entertaining, but the special issue on the apocalypse was even more fantastic than most. It was as thought-provoking as it was entertaining, reminding readers of their own culpability in creating the potential for a destroyed world as well as their responsibility for making the world a better place.

The layout of the volume was, itself, fascinating and had the ability to draw the reader in on multiple levels. This was most in evidence by the interweaving of Kevin Cockle’s “Timeline” (a recounting of some of the history of economic theory as well as a postulation on the future of economic policy and where this will lead) throughout various narratives – every few pages, elements of Cockle’s timeline would appear at the bottom of the page, threading itself through the overall narrative of the On Spec volume and tying stories together.

As a disability scholar who does work in fantastic fiction, I was particularly taken with Camille Alexa’s story “All Them Pretty Babies”, which challenged social ideas of beauty in the post-apocalyptic future. Unlike many authors who revel in the horror of the different body, who present the “deformed” body as something that should evoke shock and disgust, Camille Alexa puts the reader into the position of her narrator, Esme, who collects babies that have been mutated by bio weapons that have damaged the future. Esme is an incredible character, able to see the beauty of diversity, seeing disability and difference as markers of beautiful bodies. She defines beauty as difference from the mundane normalcy of the human body that is preferred by most of society – Esme sees beauty in extra eyes, legs, arms, and conjoined bodies. She is dismayed that she is so boring, with only two legs, two arms, and two eyes: “Bonita’s so pretty, she probably never walk. Not even walk like New Mama, who hunch over cane and hobble like on third leg – though she’s not that pretty, what with her having only two like most” (6).

Despite the human race suffering because there are too few human beings remaining after the bombing, the people of the future preserved cities are abandoning children that they view as deformed, trying to stick to an ideal of what the “normal” human being should be.  People in haz mat suits come out to the destroyed fields to leave babies to die because of their biological difference, while worrying about the future of human fertility. Esme and her group go through the fields to rescue these abandoned children of a humanity that fears biological difference, telling these children how beautiful they are for their diversity from bodily norms. Esme and her group of abandoned children are trying to make the world outside of the city livable again while the city-dwellers consistently deny the changes that they have wrought. The city dwellers waste human life because the life forms they encounter don’t conform to their notions of beauty.

Camille Alexa provides a commentary on the ableist (able-bodied centred) world that we currently live in. She creates an exaggerated ableist future to point to issues regarding biological diversity and disability in our current world. Disabilities are made more prevalent and occurring more often, and people with disabilities face even more discrimination – having their lives and rights taken away completely rather than facing the likelihood of facing a life of reduced rights, government control, and the medicalised body. Her future population tries to euthanize functioning human bodies because they differ from a socially determined norm and they justify these actions as humanitarian because they cannot imagine people living with diverse bodies. Rather than shifting their own notions of what is bodily acceptable, they eliminate difference and further regulate and control the body.

Ideas of the danger of birth continue into Daniel LeMoal’s short story “Destroyer”, where small elements of future populations have developed the ability to project dreams into the minds of others. When a child begins to show an increased ability to control the minds around him, he is seen as a biological threat. Like Camille Alexa’s story, this apocalyptic narrative focusses on the danger embodied in the future – represented by children. Apocalyptic narratives are fundamentally about the future, and, therefore tales about children and the potential embodied in future generations brings attention to the impact we have on the future of the world.

Karl Johanson’s “Frats and Cheers” is probably the most terrifying narrative in this volume for me since it shows a future population that is so inundated with media manipulation that it has lost the ability to think for itself. His population is terrifying because it shows a magnification of the modern disinterest in challenging and questioning messages. His future population enjoys reality T.V. more than the actual reality of the world around them, and actively avoids interest in world affairs, while being content to have their messages fed to them. This is a narrative of the dangers of apocalyptic stupidity – truly terrifying.

Timothy Gerwing plays with ideas of religious apocalypse narratives and portrays a future that is visited by an avenging angel in his “Hog-Killing Weather”. Gerwing turns religious apocalyptic narratives on their end by creating an angel who punishes religious zealots as much as any others who show a fundamental inhumanity.

Al Onia, also playing with religious narratives of the apocalypse, presents us with four horsemen who are gathered together to fight the four horsemen of the apocalypse in “Knights Exemplar”. Despite their desire to save the world around them, they are subject to the social fear and hatred of outsiders that becomes magnified in times of crisis.

Douglas Smith’s “The Walker of the Shifting Borderland” creates a different kind of religious narrative of the apocalypse when he presents the embodiment of Chaos and Order and their child, the Walker, who is seeking balance between these forces. Reality is crumbling as Order and Chaos seek to maintain their old status quo and prevent new changes in the world. This is a tale of epic love when a mortal gets caught between a battle of the gods. Smith reminds us that we have the potential to change the world around us and that self-sacrifice can be a means of making the world around us better.

Leslie Brown’s “Mesa at the Edge of the World” portrays a future in which the government has provided a method of euthanasia for any who want to commit suicide. Rather than putting funding into health care and psychological care programmes, the government has shown a willingness to ship people who seek suicide out into the desert so that they can hurl themselves into a vortex. Brown illustrates the treatment of people with psychological disabilities as disposable objects and inconveniences.

The apocalyptic narratives in this On Spec issue are not ones of futility, hopelessness, or loss, but are rather reminders of the importance of continuing a battle for social justice and a reminder that we have the potential to change the world around us, to fight the apocalypses that we continually create around us.

You can explore On Spec at their website at http://www.onspec.ca/ and pick up a copy of this apocalyptic issue since the world didn’t end after all. Thank goodness you will have enough time to read this before the next apocalypse comes along.

Interview with Liz Strange

An Interview with Liz Strange
By Derek Newman-Stille

I met Liz Strange at Can Con in Ottawa, a conference on Canadian Speculative

Photo of Liz Strange (Courtesy of Liz Strange)

Fiction. She was part of a panel that initiated a great discussion about representations of Queer or LGBTQ2 people. After hearing her speak, I wanted to have the opportunity to share some of her insights on Speculating Canada. Liz Strange is the author of the Dark Kiss Trilogy & Dark Kiss Tales. You can check out her website at http://www.lizstrange.com/ . I want to thank Ms. Strange for being willing to do this interview and sharing her insights with us.

Spec Can: To start the interview, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Liz Strange: I am single mom of four (ages 8-18), living in my hometown of Kingston, ON. By day I work at a local hospital and by night am an author of speculative fiction (fantasy, horror, mystery). I am a die-hard horror and sci-fi/fantasy fan and a complete nut about ancient history and world mythology.

Spec Can: What is the role of mythology in your work?

Liz Strange: I think mythology influences all of my writing to some degree. I am addicted to learning and researching various aspects of world mythology, cultural history and anthropology. I find it fascinating, especially the deep similarities found in ancient beliefs and schools of thought between peoples who at that time had no direct contact with one another.

Spec Can:  What mythologies do you draw upon when you write?

Liz Strange: Personally, I am drawn to ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology, and to a lesser extent Roman. I am also intrigued with South American Native mythology and spiritual beliefs, such as the Mayan and Incan cultures. But I am influenced by many beliefs, whether they be defined by geographical and historical contexts, from shamanism and animism, to organized religious beliefs and customs. I can’t get enough of it.

Spec Can: How does mythology speak to the modern Canadian reader?

Liz Strange: I think we are all looking for answers. Ancient mythology and spiritual beliefs came from a need to define the world around us, to understand our humanity and our place in the ‘bigger picture”. We all want to know want life means, how we came to be, what our place in history will be.

Spec Can: Your work The Embrace of Life and Death features an angel and a vampire who are in a relationship together. Why use an angel? What can an angel bring to the story?

Liz Strange: The idea of an angel in my work came via an odd route. I watched the (not great) movie Legion, and was intrigued by the presentation of angels as these gritty, hyper-masculine ‘soldiers’, who were not above acts of extreme violence to support their cause. I took that thought away, chewed on it a while and did a massive amount of reading about angelic lore, hierarchy, mystique, etc, mainly from the Judeo-Christian vein, but also interpretations/references from other sources.

I eventually focused in on the Angel Azrael, and kept coming back to the contrast between light and dark, good and evil, and decided to bring an Angel into a story with vampires. The vampire character Kieran in The Embrace of Life and Death is actually a secondary character from my Dark Kiss Trilogy, and he had always quietly been begging for his own story.

Spec Can: What mythology of the angelic did you draw upon in your story?

Liz Strange: With the angel mythology I kept coming back to this whole idea of origins and what it meant to be human. That focus ended up being explored on a number of different levels in the story.

Spec Can: You have used queer-oriented characters in your work. What is the virtue of using queer characters?

Liz Strange: I have a strong belief that love is love, and lust is lust. We all experience attraction and appreciation for others on different levels: romantic, spiritual, physical. This is a story on one level about a same-sex romantic/sexual relationship, but is also a story about how true connection with another transcends the commonly accepted definitions/confines of sexuality and gender.

Spec Can: What can queer characters add to a story?

Liz Strange: Having a queer character can give a reader a new perspective on life and relationships, or can be something with which to identify with. It offers challenges, broader thinking, open mindedness and acceptance.

Spec Can: What is distinctly Canadian about your work? How does your Canadian identity speak through your writing?

Liz Strange: I try to set a majority of my works in Canada, or at least have a Canadian character represented.  Our recognition in the world as peace keepers, progressive thinkers and top providers to our citizens is very important to me.

I am proud of my nationality and our country’s history, and come from a long line of writers, historians, politicians and educators. My maternal grandfather was Arthur R.M. Lower, who won the Order of Canada in 1968, and my relatives through my father’s family were representative in the Legislative Assembly of Canada and first elected mayor of my hometown of Kingston.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell_W._Strange

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_R._M._Lower

Spec Can: What drew you to write about vampires?

Liz Strange: I don’t even know where to start with that. I have always been drawn to darker fiction and film/TV and vampires in particular. Beyond the surface attraction to the ideas of immortality, strength, power, etc, I love the idea of the vampire as a physical manifestation of the darker, primal nature lurking in all humans. We are all controlled to some extent – our base emotions such a hunger, lust and fear. Under certain conditions we can all be monsters.

Spec Can: Why is the vampire so often connected to sexuality? What is sexy about the vampire?

Liz Strange: Again, it’s about giving into the base, primal core of our being, where there is no need to conform to societal, family or religious expectations, and simply go with what feels good.

Spec Can: What can the vampire reveal about our modern interest in beauty and youth?

Liz Strange: Today’s society seems to be obsessed with retaining youth and beauty above all else, no cost seems to be too great to be thinner, prettier, more fit. It’s an odd, yet unmistakable parallel to the concept of vampirism.

Spec Can: In The Embrace of Life and Death, the past is an important part of the plot of the novel. How does the figure of the vampire speak to readers about ideas of memory and the past?

Liz Strange: I think the past drives everything in the present and future, and the vampire (if they exist) could be a primary link to the past like no other sources. Imagine being able to speak with someone who has actually experienced events/conditions that we can only imagine.

I also believe that no matter what changes you may make to your person, to your living arrangement or status, you can never completely escape your origins.

Spec Can: What questions do you hope that your work inspires in readers?

Liz Strange: I like my readers to be entertained, first and foremost, but I also like to spark some interest in things they may never have thought of before. I like to intrigue, incite curiosity and challenge people to think outside their comfort zone. The world is a big place, full of wonder, mystery, beauty and misery.

Spec Can:  You have mentioned in your bio that you have an interest in anthropology. How does anthropology influence your work?

Liz Strange: Bottom line I am fascinated by people: What makes them tick? Why do they believe the things they do? Commit the acts they do? Why do they love, hate, champion, condemn, judge and try to change the things they do?

Spec Can: What is romantic about the monster? Why has the monster become a sympathetic and even attractive figure?

Liz Strange: The monster is romantic and sympathetic, because it lives in all of us. Human beings are complicated, challenging, frustrating, wondrous beings, capable of many things both inspiring and horrifying.

Spec Can: Is there anything further you would like to mention to our readers?

Liz Strange: I’d just like to say thank-you to all the readers who’ve taken a chance on my works. I hope I’ve brought some enjoyment into your lives.

I want to express my thanks to Ms. Strange for this fantastic interview. She has offered some interesting insights. To find some of Liz Strange’s work and read some of her further insights, you can check out her website at http://www.lizstrange.com/

Bullying, Bodies, and Baddies

A Review of Timothy Carter’s Evil? (Flux, 2009)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Fitting perfectly with the current interest in the bullying phenomenon and finding ways to stop bullying, Timothy Carter’s Teen Fiction novel Evil? features a queer-oriented teen growing up in a small town in Northern Canada. His town is highly Christian and even teens in this town admonish people for “taking the Lord’s name in vain”.

Stuart is a teen who is unsure of his religious beliefs, feeling excluded from certain aspects of Christianity because of his queer orientation. He does what anyone who wants to find out the truth about religion does… he consults with the source, a reliable figure…. a demon. In his ritual patterns, Stuart weaves a spell requiring the demon to speak only the truth and asks him questions about Christian belief. He finds out that despite what others suggest, there is nothing evil about homosexuality: “God doesn’t care who you kiss” (30). As an outsider, this demon who hates him and only wants free is one of the closest things that Stuart has to a friend… the other is the local priest who similarly explains that homosexuality is not a sin.

Timothy Carter disrupts the notion of the small town as a haven and location of rural safety when he illustrates what can happen in a small town to a queer teen. Although Stuart’s mother moved to the small town to keep his family safe from the dangers of urban regions, Stuart finds himself without friends and fundamentally abject (made an outsider) – his classmates will use homophobic comments with the words “no offense” as a means of disarming the implied hatred their words embody.

Eventually, Stuart faces mob violence, but, oddly enough it is not for his homosexuality, but because he is caught masturbating in the shower. The town begins a religious crusade against the crime of “spilling”, the Sin of Onan. He is subjected to bullying by schoolmates, teachers, humiliated publically and the victim of violence. Surprised that masturbation is the thing that causes religious mob violence against him instead of his homosexuality, Stuart starts to inquire about the motivation for hate crimes and discovers that a supernatural being is behind the sudden surge in hatred. It is only through gathering together a small band of outsiders, a priest, a demon, and a general attitude of acceptance that Stuart can begin to fight the tide of evil that has submerged his town.

Although masturbation is used by Timothy Carter as the vehicle for discussing issues of violence against social outsiders, and although he attributes a supernatural cause to the bullying, he is pointing to an overall issue of violence in the schools against students who are treated as social outcasts: queer-identified students, racialised students, students of diverse backgrounds and beliefs. Carter brings our attention to the wider issues of violence that occurs in the schools and how embedded it is in our behaviours. He uses the supernatural as a mechanism for pointing out the absurdity of the bullying phenomenon and the need for real social change to prevent the issues the underlay bullying.

Evil? displays Timothy Carter’s incredible sense of humour while dealing with deep issues like the entrenched nature of homophobia, body shame, fear of sexual expression, and bullying. It is a fundamentally deep teen fiction book that calls the reader to question the origin of ideas of hatred and their impact on teen lives. It asks the reader to question everything and to determine their own belief systems. Carter expresses the importance of teens deciding their own truths and finding their own path.

Despite the religious questions evoked by the story, ultimately it has a pro-Christian, or at least pro-belief-in-something-like-the-Christian-God message. Despite not wanting to be like biased, dogmatic Christians, Stuart is forced to engage in questions of faith and debate about whether he is being dogmatic in his own rejection of the notion of a higher power. Despite the religious message, as a non-Christian reading this book, I found it entertaining, hilarious, and great at asking tough questions.

Author photo courtesy of Timothy Carter

This book would be an excellent one to suggest to a teen struggling with questions of identity, religion, bullying, or concerns about the body. It would be a great addition to a school or public library so that teens can peruse it in privacy if they are worried about attracting attention from bullies.  Adult readers will find this book interesting for the depth of the story, the questions it evokes, the development of the characters, and the general humour that animates the text.

You can find out more about Timothy Carter at http://timothycarterworld.com/ and read more about Evil? and his other novels.

Upcoming Interview with Liz Strange on November 6th, 2012

Because Halloween has just passed and I just had to indulge in my passion for the monstrous a little more, I decided to interview Liz Strange about her vampire novels and portrayals of the monstrous and mythical.

If you got a chance to read my review of Liz Strange’s The Embrace of Life and Death, I know you are looking forward to reading this interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it. If you haven’t read it yet, check it out : it was posted on October 30th.

Liz Strange is an author of Fantasy, Horror, and Mystery. She has a fascination with vampires, mythology, and history.  I hope you enjoy my interview with Liz Strange on November 6th

Here are a few highlights from the interview to get you excited about it:

Liz Strange: “Under certain conditions we can all be monsters.”

Liz Strange: “I think we are all looking for answers. Ancient mythology and spiritual beliefs came from a need to define the world around us, to understand our humanity and our place in the ‘bigger picture”.”

Liz Strange: “Having a queer character can give a reader a new perspective on life and relationships, or can be something with which to identify with. It offers challenges, broader thinking, open mindedness and acceptance.”

Liz Strange: “Beyond the surface attraction to the ideas of immortality, strength, power, etc, I love the idea of the vampire as a physical manifestation of the darker, primal nature lurking in all humans.”

Liz Strange: “I like my readers to be entertained, first and foremost, but I also like to spark some interest in things they may never have thought of before. I like to intrigue, incite curiosity and challenge people to think outside their comfort zone. The world is a big place, full of wonder, mystery, beauty and misery.”

Liz Strange: “The monster is romantic and sympathetic, because it lives in all of us.”

To explore more about Liz Strange in advance of the interview, check out her website at www.lizstrange.com . Stay tuned for the upcoming interview on November 6th