Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 19: An Interview with Dominik Parisien

When I mention Speculative Poetry to most people, they respond with a bit of confusion. I often think this may be because they are seeing poetry as the quintessential example of  high culture and anything “genre” as the pits of low, popular culture… then again, maybe they just picture poems like this:

Roses are Red
Aliens are Green
Space is vast and largely unseen.

But, that isn’t what speculative poetry is like (unless I am attempting to write it).

Dominik Parisien is a master wordsmith, able to play with language in such a way that all communicative forms become weirded. He shows both the potential of language to push boundaries, and also the inadequacy of non-poetic forms of communication for capturing the complexity of an emotional situation.

In our interview Dominik and I discuss aging, disability, poetry, high versus low culture, the human body, sexuality, and so many things. For some of the answers, Dominik realised that poetry was the only way to answer the question adequately and that conventional speech was too limiting to express the full body of emotion, thought, feeling, philosophy, and ideal that poetry can bring together with clever word play and evocative image intermixing.

A brilliant editor, author, and scholar, Dominik will fascinate you and inspire you to open the world up to questions. I hope that you enjoy our interview as much as I did!!

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

 

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

You can explore some of my reviews of Dominik Parisien’s poems at:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2013/09/12/hidingrevealing/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2012/10/01/the-green-in-the-human/

You can explore Dominik’s website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/

Binding Traditions

A review of Erin Bow’s Sorrow’s Knot (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

A great deal of fantasy is focused on the hero’s narrative, masculine figures in a masculine, patriarchal society. Erin Bow creates a female dominated society. Women have powers that males don’t – the power to bind spirits with string. In a place that is filled with the dead, shadowy globs of darkness who consume the living when given the chance, men aren’t safe. They don’t have the skills or the strength to protect themselves, so they leave the society of the women and head to safer areas. The women in this novel are figures of power, complex and diverse, but all possessing an inner strength that centralises them in the narrative. Unlike a lot of fantasy narratives that try to construct women as vulnerable, as damsels in distress who need rescue, these women are the figures of power in their society.

Instead of using the medieval world as an archetype of fantasy to modify for her story as occurs often in high fantasy, Bow creates a distinctly non-European society. Her society is one that is unique, with highly developed rituals that are distinct from the norms of fantasy. This society binds the dead in trees, has girls discover their possible careers at adulthood, organises women into households that are formed based on their career talents rather than their biological relationships (though these sometimes occur as well), doesn’t have marriage and in fact views monogamous pairings as unordinary and things that animals do rather than people, and, a society that is a matriarchy. The world she creates is whole and rich and this difference from the expected tropes of fantasy allows her to distinguish her world and create characters and cultural situations that would not often be found in medieval-like fantasy societies.

Cover photo of Erin Bow's Sorrow's Knot courtesy of Scholastic Canada http://www.scholastic.ca/books/view/sorrows-knot

Cover photo of Erin Bow’s Sorrow’s Knot courtesy of Scholastic Canada http://www.scholastic.ca/books/view/sorrows-knot

When discussing feminist fantasy, I have often heard male authors claim that they have to write women as weak because it is ‘historically accurate’ or ‘accurate for that society’, which is ridiculous since these stories are often not set in real historical periods, but rather other worlds. Bow is able to create a society that right away tells the reader: don’t expect this novel to be disempowering to women. She gets away from all of the baggage associated with the worlds fantasy authors often replicate by expressing this society’s difference.

However, her society is not a feminist utopia. It is set with problems that would face any society – issues of social taboos, the strength of traditions that alienate people who behave in non-traditional ways, and the loss of history. This society has classic human issues embedded in it like the battle between youth and the aged, acts of defiance and punishment, the desire to change social patterns, issues of power and the dangers of too much power, and questions about how the local relates to the wider world.

Carried on from the time of the mytho-historical figure Mad Spider, who first powerfully bound the dead, and first fought the most powerful form the dead can have, White Hands, the art of binding bodies and creating binding wards has been central to Westmost’s society. The village is surrounded by wards to keep out the dead, powerful knots of string that are created by the binders, specialists in the art of magical knot-making. Binders also bind the dead. Whenever anyone dies in Westmost, the binder takes them out of the village and ties them up at the top of trees, asking for the wind to take them away and therefore not have them visit the village with hungry mouths of shadow.

Willow, the most powerful binder since Mad Spider, raises her daughter, Otter, to be the next binder, recognising the same skill in the girl. But, when Willow’s mentor, who has been like a mother figure to her, dies, Willow begins to doubt the whole tradition of binding the dead and worries about the implications of this practice. She is unable to let go of her mentor and calls her back instead of wishing her to the winds. Willow sees that her power is too strong and that binding is a problem… and kicks her daughter out, telling her that she shouldn’t be a binder. Otter feels lost and as though her entire destiny and her family itself has been taken from her.

Skills in this society are kept secrets, only taught by those who have been chosen to be part of a specific career, which means that Otter, by being kicked out of the binder’s tradition, can’t discover this from others. Her friend Kestrel is receiving training as a ranger, and Cricket, one of the few males who decides to stay in the village, is learning to become a storyteller even though males are generally not taught skills, so Otter feels surrounded by those with clear paths while she has none.

Otter begins to notice something about the wards. They seem hungry like the dead. She realises that in keeping the dead out… they are also trapping the living within. The knots seem to pull at people. But, around her mother, all of the knots seem to be loosening, unbinding, and, like Mad Spider, Willow is also being called mad. When the village is attacked by the dead, who manage to get around the wards, Willow, rather than reinforcing the wards, goes out to meet her former mentor, who has become a White Hand. She gets touched by the White Hand, and, unlike other types of the dead who cause bodily harm, White Hands cause psychological harm – they replicate themselves in the body of human begins and eventually take over, dissolving individuality.

Otter is now the only choice for her society as a binder. She only has basic knowledge, but has inherent skills that could help her. Her mother tries to train her to take on the position in her last few days of life, all the while turning into something different. Willow begins to hunger, and Cricket discovers that she is appeased in small ways by the telling of tales. He tells her constant stories to try to help her hold on to her humanity, and then he tells her the one story that is a secret of the storyteller’s craft, a story that is forbidden to be revealed. He tells her that when Mad Spider bound her own mother, she bound her too tightly and Willow mentions that from that time forward, there has been something wrong with the binding of the dead.

Cricket is cast out of his society by the elders for telling secrets to others that are outside of his craft. When Kestrel and Otter follow him because they recognise that more knowledge and a greater breadth of knowledge from all of the other crafts could be helpful, they find him already preyed upon by the dead. The two young women continue on Cricket’s chosen path toward the great city that Mad Spider’s mythical roots began in, seeking to discover the depth of secrets and the reason why things seem wrong with the wards and with binding in general.

Questioning their place in their society now that taboos have led to Cricket’s death, the two begin to challenge all of the assumptions their society has, re-mapping their own history and trying to discover what has been lost to time and the origins of behaviours that their society has taken for granted as the only way to do things. This is a novel about he pushing of the bonds of society, the restrictive net that is cast around social groups, controlling and consuming them. It is only by violating traditions, by questioning them and refusing to follow the rules, that real, powerful change can be made.

 

Why Do Schools Keep Making Zombies Out of People?

A review of James Marshall’s Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies (ChiZine Publications, 2012)ninja_2
By Derek Newman-Stille

In his Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies, James Marshall tells us something that every one of us who attended public school and high school already know – schools are Hell trying to make zombies of us all! Unfortunately, the only one who sees this is Guy Boy Man, a young adult who killed his parents after he discovered that they were zombies and were planning on eating him once he failed the ZAT (the Zombie Acceptance Test). They were certain he wouldn’t pass the ZAT – he was too much of an outsider, a rebel, someone who just didn’t fit in and abide by the “normal” rules of zombie society. Zombies are close-minded, worried about how things “seem” to others, and strongly interested in maintaining the status quo of ‘normalcy’. The zombie teachers are literally muzzled (to keep them from snacking on students before they write the ZAT) and chained to their classrooms with chains. After all, schools hunger for brains.

Guy Boy Man is able to see things that others aren’t. He can see that the world is populated by the supernatural, that the world is well into the zombie apocalypse and most people are zombies… and if they aren’t, they are food. He sees more than everyone else, but he is an unforgiveable jerk – treating women as disposable, engaging in homophobic, ableist, and racist comments, comfortable destroying art… but, the reader can take incredible pleasure in Guy Boy Man’s offensiveness because he is consistently blunt about the underlying offensiveness of our culture and of schools in particular. Rather than covering up the way that disabled bodies are treated as disposable, he brings attention to it. Rather than trying to politely ignore the racism and homophobia in schools, he make it blatant, often in his attempts to NOT be homophobic and racist. He treats women as objects because women are consistently objectified by our school. He is offensive because he is part of an offensive world and his casual destruction embodies the hopeless nihilism of a world that believes it can’t change anything – a zombie world that believes that nothing will really change and will continue in undead monotony.

Guy Boy Man is the openly offensive jerk that our society tries to mask itself from being through polite avoidance of the issues of society. Marshall uses Guy Boy Man to take the “subtle” fatphobia, ableism, sexism, racism, and homophobia of our school system and over-perform it, taking it into a place of self-mocking auto-parody.

Marshall’s zombies are stiff because their lives are rigid. Zombies have absolute control over our society and in order to maintain their control, they eat anyone who is rebellious. Marshall uses the figure of the zombie to bring critical attention to the way that our society maintains the status quo, unquestioningly repeating the same patterns of the past. He reminds us that much of our education system is focused on the memorization and regurgitation of information rather than on asking critical changes and thinking outside the box.

You can find out more about James Marshall’s work at http://www.howtoendhumansuffering.com/ .

To explore this and other ChiZine Publications books, visit their website at http://chizinepub.com/ .

 

 

Upcoming interview with Alison Sinclair on Friday February 21st

Scientist involved in medical research and Science Fiction and Fantasy author, Alison Sinclair is an author with diverse interests. I was lucky enough to encounter her work when it was recommended to me by a colleague, Cathy Schoel, because of my research on disability in Canadian Speculative Fiction. Sinclair’s Darkborn series features a world where half of the population is blind, and as someone who is interested in representations of disability, I found this absolutely fascinating. She was able to challenge a lot of the assumptions about disability in our world, posing questions to readers about the treatment of people with disabilities. I consider myself very fortunate to have now had the opportunity to talk to Alison Sinclair after looking at her work through a disability studies lens.

In our  upcoming interview on Friday February 21st, Alison Sinclair talks about silencing the inner censor that can prevent creative explorations, the relationship between science and science fiction, the power of good fiction to alter people’s assumptions and frame of reference, developing a complete fantasy world by exploring a different environment and different people’s norms, effectively writing a blind culture and considering the social relationships of disability, the dramatic and character development potential inherent in stigma, and the uses and abuses of stigmatised people by those in control. Sinclair discusses the power of Speculative Fiction to question taken for granted social norms and propose alternatives to the way we view the work.

Cover photo of Alison Sinclair's "Darkborn" courtesy of http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/

Cover photo of Alison Sinclair’s “Darkborn” courtesy of http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/

Here are a few teasers from our upcoming interview:

Alison Sinclair: “I’m afraid my CV might be best explained by my having seen the job I wanted at the age of nine and refusing to accept I’d been born 300 years too soon to become the science officer on a starship.”

Alison Sinclair: “Once I started writing science fiction, I could start building the science I knew into the stories.”

Alison Sinclair: “One of the most enjoyable parts of writing for me is trying to shift reference frames, whether it’s an individual character or a whole society. I want, as much I can, to capture the sense that people have that their way of living is the normal way to do it.”

Alison Sinclair: “I suspect I came to use stigma for a number of reasons – it’s dramatically useful, because it imposes constraints on power, breeds conflict and jeopardy and ensures characters with gifts don’t have too easy a time of it.”

Alison Sinclair: “When I made up my own worlds, I could make them ones in which the principle of equality was non-negotiable.”

Alison Sinclair: “My personal view is that the role of science fiction and fantasy is less to critique the status quo than to explore the alternatives, both desirable and undesirable.”

Alison Sinclair: “In SF any and all givens are up for change, provided the writer can make a story out of it.”

Alison Sinclair: “The experience that shows up most persistently in my work is of being an immigrant. Mine’s a more subtle dislocation than most, since I was not crossing boundaries of race, language, or religion, but there were distinct differences in social norms and expectations.”

Alison Sinclair: “The paradigm Sinclair character is the one who has started in one place and ended up in another, and who lives with the perpetual unease of having come from somewhere else, if he or she is not actually caught between two worlds.”

I hope that you enjoy our upcoming interview and all of the questions that Sinclair raises about the relationship between speculative fiction and society.

If you have not had a chance to read Alison Sinclair’s work yet, you can explore her website at http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/ .

You can check out a review of her novel Darkborn at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/blind-magic/

The Power of Horror to Teach

This week I wrote a guest post for Susan MacGregor’s Suzenyms over at http://suzenyms.blogspot.ca/2013/10/teaching-little-monsters-guest-post-by.html about the power of horror to teach us. Here are a couple of teasers to get you excited to check it out.

“Horror can be a way of illustrating social exclusions – showing who is left out when we think of ideas of ‘the normal’. Outsiders become monsters…and monsters become outsiders, and we define ourselves in opposition to these outsiders saying, ‘We are this, because we aren’t that.'”

Photo by: Melody E. McIntyre Modified by: Derek Newman-Stille

Photo by: Melody E. McIntyre
Modified by: Derek Newman-Stille

“Horror makes us look into the dark places that our society doesn’t want to go.”

“When we look into the corners in which we cast our outsiders, we can see the things that we ignore, the issues that we pretend don’t exist, and question why we create certain ideas or people as outsiders.”

“The complications of horror, its willingness to blur boundaries, tear apart comforts, and make us face things that we don’t want to see, contain a pedagogical potential. When horror unsettles us, it places us in an area of question – a desire to interrogate why we feel so much about a certain situation, why we are uncomfortable.  Our fears make us recoil from things…but that also makes us pause for a moment.”

“Horror exposes society’s silences because it refuses to be quiet.”

“Horror illustrates what the dominant groups in our society consider frightening, and that is often the things that they exclude, the ways that they push people to the fringes because of their otherness, their uncomfortable nature.”

“There is a value in putting ourselves into the position of the monster, the villain, and examining their perceptions, the things that create them. Horror turns our world upside down, makes it strange, threatening, unsafe… and in that topsy turvy world of haunting visions and shaky ground, we can ask questions about things that are not always asked, we can ask those uncomfortable, strange, threatening, unsafe questions that we may not be able to ask when we are trying hard to be normal, to fit into social ideas and to perform.”

“The monster breaks through social barriers (and the pages of our novels or our television screens) and bites us, infecting us with its otherness, its strangeness and then asks, “Am I so strange?”, “Why am I so strange?”, and “What makes you unstrange?” Once bitten, we change, we shift, we transform. That transformative process is part of powerful learning.”

Check out the full discussion on the teaching power of horror on Susan MacGregor’s Suzenyms at http://suzenyms.blogspot.ca/2013/10/teaching-little-monsters-guest-post-by.html.

Upcoming Interview with Ursula Pflug on Tuesday, October 29th

It is great to have a chance to interview another local Peterborough area author, and this time, one of Science Fiction. I have admired Ursula Pflug’s use of poetic language in her SF for some time and marveled at her brilliant way with words. I was very excited that she could take time to do this interview so close to the launch of her new novel The Alphabet Stones. You can check out my review of The Alphabet Stones at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/a-brush-with-mythical-madness/ .

Cover photo of The Alphabet Stones courtesy of Ursula Pflug

Cover photo of The Alphabet Stones courtesy of Ursula Pflug

Ursula Pflug has been involved in art and authorship in various capacities over the years: as art critic, graphic designer, comedy, and, of course science fiction writing. She is an activist both in her writing and out of the literary space. In our interview, we have the opportunity to discuss the changes that technology can bring to society, green energy an environmentalism, the genesis of powerful stories from observations about the world, the potential for ideas but also the conservativism of the genre of SF. Ms. Pflug reveals her extensive knowledge of Canadian SF and SF criticism, and her decision to engage in a dialogue with questions raised in SF and by the society that creates it. She provides tips on how you can support Canadian SF authors through reviews, applying for grants to house author readings.

Plus, in this interview Pflug even outlines a short story idea that came from her experiences in Japan.

Here are a few teasers for our upcoming interview:

Ursula Pflug: “Eastern Ontario has seeped into my bones something fierce and been a big influence on my work.”

Ursula Pflug: “While history has always been written by the winners the web allows each of us to have our say.”

Ursula Pflug: “I’m a writing teacher, so that is where I begin, is with the elements of story. Anything can happen, and at the beginning of telling the story we have no idea what that anything will be. No matter how detailed our preliminary outline is, as writers we may still deviate—our characters often turn out to have minds of their own. So—for me, any story can encourage readers to think in new ways.”

Ursula Pflug: “At its best, speculative fiction, whether it’s science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream or anything else, allows us, both as readers and writers, a larger canvas. We can draw outside the lines.”

Ursula Pflug: “One way we can help our fellow authors is by writing reviews of their work. Since the big dailies aren’t reviewing much we tend as authors to post reviews on GoodReads or LibraryThing.”

Ursula Pflug: “I want people to be given more tools for breaking down the ways in which they define reality. I keep going back to your tagline, Derek, but I do think you’ve nailed it so nicely.”

Ursula Pflug: “The moments we are most moved by as readers stay with us and influence us as writers, even though most often we’re not aware of the influence when we write. “

Derek Newman-Stille, Ursula Pflug, and Leah Bobet (left to right) at The Cat Sass Reading Series

Derek Newman-Stille, Ursula Pflug, and Leah Bobet (left to right) at The Cat Sass Reading Series

Ursula Pflug: “When we read about magic are we escaping or are we expanding our notions of what is possible?”

Ursula Pflug: “If naturalistic fiction takes place in two dimensions, the moment we add a reality bending element we’re adding an extra dimension. There is more room to play as an author and more room to play as a thinker and reader. This is true of science fiction as well and I think whether we like magic or extrapolated science is largely a matter of  taste.”

Ursula Pflug: “Reading about magic can open our minds.”

In this interview, as with her artistic work, Pflug illustrates that we can find powerful stories in little sketches of narrative, the little bits of our experience that contain science fictional potential – the potential to question and change the world. Check out our full interview on Tuesday, October 29th and find some new techniques for challenging, questioning, and changing the world.

An Interview with Michael Kelly

An interview with Michael Kelly by Derek Newman-Stille

I was very pleased when Michael Kelly was willing to share some insights with readers of Speculating Canada. I have been reading his work for years, and was impressed at the depth of his insights and thoughts about Canadian horror. I hope that readers enjoy our conversation as much as I did.

Author photo courtesy of Michael Kelly

Author photo courtesy of Michael Kelly

Spec Can: To begin our interview, could you tell readers a little bit about yourself?

Michael Kelly: Thanks, Derek. I’m an author, editor, and publisher based near Toronto, originally hailing from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. My work has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Black Static, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Postscripts, Space & Time, Supernatural Tales, Tesseracts, and others. I’ve been a finalist for The Shirley Jackson Award, and the British Fantasy Society Awards.

Spec Can: What inspired you to become a horror author? What appeals to you about horror?

Michael Kelly: Horror’s appeal is that it is, to me at least, the broadest and most inclusive of all literary forms. It truly has the widest canvas. If we are to categorize literature into genres, then certain works of science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, and mainstream literature can easily fit under the horror umbrella. Douglas Winter famously opined that horror is not a genre, it’s an emotion. Though that is a bit simplistic, I do ascribe to that basic notion, somewhat. Horror is a mode of literature more than a genre.

When I write, I don’t actually aspire to genre. I don’t sit down to write horror. I just write. What comes out, I guess, can loosely be described as horror. But, if we are to categorize (and I understand people’s need to do so), then I guess you could call my work horror, for the most part. I prefer Robert Aickman’s term “strange stories.”

Spec Can: What do you hope your readers will take from reading your fiction?

Michael Kelly: I hope they experience a shift in their perceptions, a slight subversion of the every day, a queer unease. Whether my approach is ontological or psychological, hopefully I can reveal to readers some small insight into human nature.

Spec Can: What is different about Canadian horror from that of other nationalities?

Michael Kelly: Is Canadian horror different from other horror fiction? Well, some say my raison d’etre is promoting Canadian horror. It’s the reason I edit the Chilling Tales series for EDGE Publications. Volume 2 will be out soon.

Canada is certainly fertile ground for imaginative minds.  What I’ve discovered is that Canadian writers explore the same themes as their contemporaries. Stories of corporate horror; side trips into surrealism and modern supernatural horror.  Tales of loss.  And the all-too-real horrors of everyday life, of existing in harsh climates, whether literal or psychological.  Not unlike any good horror fiction, then.  Except I sense a distinctly Canadian worldview, a disquieting solitude, perhaps, or a tangible loneliness, that permeates these stories and makes them truly chilling Canadian tales. There is definitely a Canadian aesthetic.

Cover photo of Scratching The Surface courtesy of Michael Kelly

Cover photo of Scratching The Surface courtesy of Michael Kelly

Spec Can: What can horror do to inspire readers or challenge the status quo?

Michael Kelly:  Hmmm, well, other than to entertain, much of horror fiction is grounded in philosophical treatises. Horror is, to me, so inclusive of themes and ideas, the outré, that by it’s very nature it challenges the status quo. Much of it is reliant on mood, atmosphere, and the unknown. It is a mode, especially, I think, in the short form, that tests our meager existence.

Spec Can: You have been instrumental in creating Undertow Publications, a small press that produces horror work. What is the virtue of small independent presses?

Michael Kelly:  I am a very small press, a micro-press, to be sure. I prefer the term independent press, though. Years ago, the independent press was a vital outlet for writers; a place where you could find literate, daring, and avant-garde fiction that bucked the mainstream, and eschewed commerciality. You can still find that, to be sure, but with the proliferation of DIY publishing, and the publication of four-hundred new eBooks every twelve seconds, it’s become increasingly difficult to find that fiction. It’s almost not worth looking for, but, like finding that needle in a haystack, the small amount of pain is worth the discovery. There’s good, bad, and terrible writing in both the traditional and self-publishing arenas. The independent press still plays a role, to be sure, and the savvy reader, whether by word-of-mouth, recommendations, or simple sleuthing, can usually find those innovative works. Hopefully, out of the morass of the DIY culture, we still have some savvy readers.

Spec Can: Could you tell readers a little bit about the anthology Shadows and Tall Trees that you edit? What are some of the key things that you hope the anthology will focus on?

Cover photo of Shadows and Tall Trees Autumn 2012 issue, courtesy of Michael Kelly

Cover photo of Shadows and Tall Trees Autumn 2012 issue, courtesy of Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly: I’ve just published issue 5 of Shadows & Tall Trees. It’s a journal of weird fiction, and strange stories. I’ve had the pleasure of publishing a number of distinguished authors in its pages, including Robert Shearman, Alison Moore, Steve Rasnic Tem, among many others, and Canadian writers Sandra Kasturi, Richard Gavin, Ian Rogers, and Simon Strantzas.

My focus is thoughtful, intelligent weird fiction. Fiction that gives you that genuine frisson. So far, I think I’ve accomplished that. It’s been very well received, with praise from Ellen Datlow, and Peter Straub. Five stories from the first four issues have been selected for reprint in six different “Best Of” anthologies.

Spec Can: You have written about and published stories about ghosts. Why do ghosts inspire our fascination as a society? What appeals to the human imagination about the idea of haunting?

Michael Kelly: Most of us have a good dose of empathy. Ghosts are mostly born from trauma or tragedy. When they return, when they haunt us, we still empathize with their circumstance, their condition, whether malevolent or not. It’s an interesting dichotomy — empathy for the dead. Ghosts, you see, aren’t about the dead, they’re about the living.

Spec Can: As a horror author, what frightens you? What inspires your fear?

Michael Kelly: I suspect the things that frighten me – loss and abandonment – are the same things that frighten many writers. My fears are less tangible, perhaps. It isn’t spiders or snakes or dolls or clowns. Those things are creepy, yes, but I am not afraid of them. I fear losing my children, my wife. I fear loneliness and aging. Death. Who doesn’t, on some primal level, fear death?

Spec Can: How does fear inspire your work?

Michael Kelly: It spurs me to write while I’m still among the living.

Spec Can: What mythologies inspire you? What mythical themes and ideas imbue your work?

Michael Kelly: I wouldn’t say any particular mythology inspires me. My fiction is often reality based, psychological in nature, with an emphasis on characters, mostly flawed.

Spec Can: What can horror do that realist fiction can’t?

Michael Kelly: Oh, gosh, that’s a good question. The short answer is ‘I don’t know.’ I think of my fiction as realist. If you say “horror,” a set of readers are going to have certain expectations. Mostly blood and viscera. That’s not me. My definition of horror is broad. “Alien” is a horror movie. “The Road” is a horror novel. Weird fiction that takes an ontological approach can open a new philosophy to some. But realist fiction can do the same. It’s all in the writing.

Spec Can: Why is so much of horror literature fascinated with the body? What can horror reveal about the body?

Michael Kelly: We’re made of blood and bone, skin and gristle, teeth and tissue. These are the fragile vessels that propel us around this fragile world. Bodies give us pleasure and pain in equal amounts. When the body is invaded and hurt, when it is mutilated or begins to erode, when disease attacks, it reminds us of our mortality. But there’s also, to some, something inherently deviant and taboo about seeing unnatural things happening to our bodies. Body horror brings a new level of intimacy to our lives.

Spec Can: In what ways do you hope your fiction will inspire readers? What do you hope readers will take away from reading your work?

Michael Kelly: Other than what I mentioned further above, I just hope readers enjoy the tales, and that the themes and ideas resonate. Hopefully the stories will linger a little with the reader.

Spec Can: Where do you see Canadian horror going from here? What does the future of Canadian horror look like?

Michael Kelly: Canadian horror fiction is having a renaissance. It’s definitely in a good place, thanks to publishers like ChiZine and EDGE, and authors like Craig Davidson, Gemma Files, Richard Gavin, Sandra Kasturi, Lisa L. Hannett, Helen Marshall, David Nickle, Ian Rogers, Michael Rowe, Simon Strantzas, Tia Travis, and Halli Villegas, to name a few. The future of Canadian dark fiction is bright.

Cover photo of Shadows and Tall Trees Summer 2013 courtesy of Michael Kelly

Cover photo of Shadows and Tall Trees Summer 2013 courtesy of Michael Kelly

Spec Can: Is there anything further that you would like to add to this interview or any other ideas that you would like to share?

Michael Kelly: Thanks, Derek. I’d just like to point readers to Shadows & Tall Trees, the journal I edit. As a one-person operation it is hard to get the word out. I think lovers of weird and strange fiction will enjoy the journal. As a very small independent press the only way to keep afloat is to sell copies. Issue 5 is now available at all the major online retailers. I do hope you’ll take a look. I guarantee it’ll be worth your time and money. You can find more info and order back copies at:

www.undertowbooks.com/issues

I want to thank Michael Kelly for this incredible conversation about Canadian Dark Fiction and being willing to share his passion for the dark and the thoughts and speculations that come out of pondering the dark.