For any of you who missed the On Air interview with Sandra Kasturi and Ian Rogers on Trent Radio, here is a digital version of it for you to download.
Yesterday, I was in the studio at Trent Radio having a discussion with Sandra Kasturi and Ian Rogers, which will be aired on Tuesday June 25th at 5:00. You can check out our discussion at 92.7 FM in the broadcast range or if you are outside the broadcast range, you can visit Trent Radio online at http://www.trentradio.ca, where it will be live streamed if you click on “LISTEN: OGG & MP3 Streams”.
Hear us discuss dark, weird fiction, the power of smaller Canadian presses, SF cover art, fears, mythology, ChiZine Publications, the blurring of genre boundaries, SF poetry, and the ability of fiction to “weird” reality enough that we look at it from a new perspective. Oh, and for those of you in Peterborough, we also talk a bit about how Peterborough is the ideal place for getting ideas for creepy horror novels.
Sandra Kasturi is the co-owner of ChiZine Publications, editor of “Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing”, and author of two books of poetry: “The Animal Bridegroom” and “Come Late to the Love of Birds”, both published by Tightrope Books. To find out more about her and read some of her poetry, visit http://sandrakasturi.com/ .
Ian Rogers is the local Peterborough author of a collection of dark fiction called “Every House Is Haunted” from ChiZine Publications and “SuperNOIRtural Tales”, a collection of supernatural detective stories,from Burning Effigy Press. To find out more about Ian Rogers visit http://www.ian-rogers.com/.
Thanks are well deserved for the assistance of Trent Radio, Alissa Paxton for her tech skills, John Muir and Kathleen Adamson for finding us a place in the broadcast schedule, and, of course to Sandra Kasturi and Ian Rogers for coming in to the studio for this discussion. Thank you also to Brett Savory and Kathryn Verhulst-Rogers for contributing to an amazing conversation.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
An Editorial By Derek Newman-Stille
As an artist, I have always been fascinated with the art that accompanies Speculative Fiction novels. So many readers focus on the cover art when making their decision about which books to read, and often the author has little or no say about which art is attached to their book.
The art of a book is often the first thing that a reader encounters when picking up a book. They see it as they open the cover and it shapes (in sometimes subtle and sometimes significant ways) their experience of the book and what they read.
Various articles keep popping up in my Facebook feed about gender and SF, and particularly the gendering of book covers and how this influences which books for teens are considered “boy books” and which are considered “girl books”. I gave a paper about 7 years ago on the role of cover art in sexualising books of urban ‘dark’ fiction, particularly the use of cover art that largely focuses on representations of parts of women’s bodies, and what this suggests about the bodily focus of these paranormal novels. The art of book covers can significantly shape the experience of the book, and yet, it is often something that is disconnected in many ways from the author’s experience of creating a book. There is not a back and forth conversation between visual artist and author, but rather a mediated conversation between publisher and artist that only occasionally (and in limited ways) involves the artist. Book covers often follow marketing trends and interests rather than the desires of the author or their focus.
As an artist, I often wonder what processes artists go through to create their cover illustrations. For some, I wonder if they have read the book at all (since the cover is often so dissociated from the plot and general feel of the book).
I was recently asked to do an illustration for a Canadian SF volume, and had to go through the process of figuring out how I would approach it. I can’t reveal details yet until the book is closer to publication. I had to consider how I would approach illustration and how I would both include my own stylistic trends (which were what attracted the publisher) while also making sure to capture the significance of the story and its general feeling. I read through the story I had been given to illustrate several times, feeling through the general experience of it, waiting for certain ideas and images to surface. I jotted down these images – writing text about dominant ideas that surfaced and sketching the various images that bubbled up through my brain as I read. I noticed that my creative mind was having a conversation with the text of the story, responding to the words I was seeing and sending back images that I then checked against the overall experience of the story.
My art work is complicated and difficult to define with a singular paradigm or easy categorisation, but I tend to approach my work through the feeling that various experiences evoke. When painting natural scenes, I try to capture the conversation that is happening between the environment I am seeing and my own feelings. I watch the land and then close my eyes and see how the land changes as I imbue it with myself, with my feelings. Similarly, when I am trying to capture a theme or idea, I pull the images that filter through my mind out and pour them through my brush (or pencil or pen) into the canvas (or paper), letting ideas flow with feelings. I often capture images that obsess me, a particular curve of a branch or the way snow has drifted, but don’t try to confine them, rather letting them participate in the art, filter through myself as the artist. In a similar way, I approached illustrating a short story as a conversation between the story and myself as an artist, exploring the sensations that it drew up through me: Rorschach patterns, the play of light and dark, hooded figures, conflict, the image of the fist. The story was complex, and I wanted to bring that complexity through into my art, creating a representation that captured the feel of the work rather than a snippet of the action. I wanted my work to explore the complexity that the story represented, the weirdness of it.
Painting a story is a process of estrangement, entering a world created by the author and feeling yourself dissolve into it as ideas and thoughts surface. It is a meeting between artist and text, the strange terrain betwixt one person and another. It was an incredible experience and one that I would like to participate in again at some point.
I would love to see more conversations between various art fields – writing inspired by a painting, stories inspired by songs, drama adapted from poems, dance inspired by novels. I am fascinated by intertextual communications, when one type of artistic text speaks to another.
You will be able to see my art work in the upcoming volume of Postscripts to Darkness 4, and I will post further details closer to the release date. You can find out more about Postscripts to Darkness at http://pstdarkness.wordpress.com/
My artistic work tends to be speculative in nature, so readers of Speculating Canada might be interested in it. You can check out my artist page at http://dereknewmanstille.ca/ . Click on Artwork to see some of my paintings.