No Longer Worn Down.

No Longer Worn Down
A review of Amal El-Mohtar’s”Seasons of Glass and Iron” in The Starlit Wood (ed. Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien, Saga, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Amal El-Mohtar interweaves two tales of disempowered women, one forced to perpetually walk to save an abusive husband, and one forced to remain perpetually still to avoid being placed under the power of men. Both are trapped -one in movement and one in stillness. In most fairy tales, both are situated as women in distress and need.

“Seasons of Glass and Iron” is a tale exploring the way that men attempt to control women through stories, rhetoric, and actions and the way that women can liberate themselves through collective action, and by creating their own narratives. El-Mohtar brings two disempowered fairy tale heroines together in her “Seasons of Glass and Iron” to illustrate that women are not passive objects to be moved around a man’s chess board, but rather are figures who can shift and change each other, providing support and encouragement to discard the disempowering texts surrounding them. 

Tabitha, doomed to perpetually walk in iron shoes, and Amira, doomed to a life of frozen near-death at the top of a mountain have to learn to loosen each other’s bounds, unlatching iron shoes and discarding glass mountains in order to find themselves and change the stories that have been written around them to bind them. It is a release from the spell of patriarchy – one that is presented, all too often, as unbreakable. 

“Seasons of Glass and Iron” is a tale of change and self-liberation where women come to recognize their own magic. Frequently women in fairy tales do magical things, but are not considered magical in comparison to other characters. El-Mohtar centralizes women’s magic. 

To discover more about Amal El-Mohtar, visit her website at https://amalelmohtar.com/

To find out more about The Starlit Wood, visit http://www.simonandschuster.ca/books/The-Starlit-Wood/Dominik-Parisien/9781481456128

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Tales of Her Own

Tales of Her Own
A review of Emma Donoghue’s Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins (Joanna Cotler Books, 1997).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In Kissing the Witch, Emma Donoghue casts a web around traditional fairy tales, drawing them together into one narrative thread by having a character from each tale introduce the next tale as her own. Characters both narrate and are narrated about. These are tales about the telling and about the power of narration itself to reveal, conceal, and create the self.

Donoghue invites her characters to ask who is allowed to tell their tales and who is constructed through the telling of tales. Characters resist the narrative ark of “tradition”, imagining new possibilities for their own deviation from the text. 

These are liberating fairy tales, opening up possibilities, and giving women voices in these tales where the traditional tales limited the options open to women. These are tales of shifts and changes, allowing women to chart new territories through the fairytale landscape, changing their circumstances. Often set at the cusp of womanhood, these tales explore the relationship between bodily and social transition. 

Donoghue evokes the power of witches, those othered and ostracised women, for changing the world around them, opening critical questions, and encouraging women to recognise their power. She resists the impulse to tie her stories up with a heterosexual “happily ever after”, and instead imagines new narrative possibilities, creating lesbian couples, women content to be without sexual relationships. 

Her tales reimagine Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, The Goose Girl, Rapunzel, The Snow Queen, Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, Donkeyskin, Sleeping Beauty, and The Little Mermaid. Donoghue illustrates that an intensive knowledge of folklore allows one to play with the tropes of the tradition, imagining new possibilities. 

You can discover more about Emma Donoghue’s work at http://www.emmadonoghue.com 

An Interview with A.C. Wise

By Derek Newman-Stille.

After reading A.C. Wise’s “The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again”, I could see that she had some great insights that would make for a fascinating interview. I hope that your enjoy our interview and all of A.C. Wise’s brilliant points.

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

A.C. Wise: Sure! I’m a transplanted Canadian currently living in the Philadelphia area. Among the members of my household are two very adorable corgis (a chaos of corgis) whose pictures frequently grace my twitter stream. I’ve had short stories in Clarkesworld, Apex, Shimmer, and the Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, among other places. The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again is my first collection. It was released by Lethe Press in October 2015, and there’s an audiobook version on the way. I also co-edit Unlikely Story, which started life as the Journal of Unlikely Entomology, and has since morphed to include other unlikely themes. Our first print anthology, Clowns: The Unlikely Coulrophobia Remix came out in January 2016. I also write a monthly Women to Read: Where to Start column for SF Signal.

Spec Can: What interested you about pop sci fi for you to play with ideas from pop sci fi and sci fi of the past in your fiction? Why the sea monsters, aliens, and hand-wringing evil scientists?

A.C. Wise: I have great affection for old movies, and movies so bad they’re good. In the ideal world, there would be a movie version of Glitter Squadron with Vincent Price in all his scenery- chewing glory playing Doctor Blood. I also kind of dig the monsters from those old movies, the guys in rubber suits, the Ray Harryheusen creatures. The Glitter Squadron is a little bit camp, so they should be facing off against suitably camp villains, not slick CGI monsters or every day baddies. Nothing less than mythology and evil science will do!

Spec Can: What interested you about writing about drag culture in “The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again”?

A.C. Wise: Aside from drag being fierce and fabulous and brave in its own right, one of the things I wanted to do with the Glitter Squadron is show different ways of being strong. There’s a certain model of Strong Female Character we see over and over in media. Even though they’re female, they’re ‘just one of the guys’. They’re tough. They wear dark colors. They’re angry. They punch things. If they wear make-up, it tends to be understated. Their hair is artfully messy to show they don’t care about looks. When they get hit, they might get one scratch on the side of their face, or a little bit of blood on their mouth to show they’re not afraid to get dirty. And above all, they are not – god forbid – girly. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with that kind of character, but it’s not the only way to be strong. I wanted heroines who didn’t have to shed the trappings of femininity to be strong. Most of the Glitter Squadron embrace femininity in the most extreme way possible – big hair, big boots, big makeup, and glitter everywhere. Of course, there are also characters like M, CeCe, and the G-String Men, because there is a spectrum. Strength comes in all shapes and forms, and it was important to me to try to showcase that.

Spec Can: Why is it important to show empowered cis-gendered women as well as empowered trans women?

A.C. Wise: It plays into the idea of showing a spectrum of strength, and a spectrum of femininity. I hate the Lone Woman model. Black Widow is a prime example of that in the Marvel movies. Being the only woman on an all-male team, she has to stand in for every woman (something male characters are very rarely asked to do). She can’t be too strong, too weak, too anything, because when she does, she is, by default, making a statement about all women. It’s impossible for her to win in this scenario. However, if there’s a whole team full of women – and that includes women of various types, cis women, trans women, fat women, black women, Latina women – they can all be variously strong and weak at different times. They can lean on each other, and none of them are asked to speak for all of femininity and carry the entire weight of their gender alone.

Spec Can: Queer people are often portrayed as passive, suffering people in traditional fiction. You have written some very empowered and powerful queer people. What is important about portraying strong queer characters?

A.C. Wise: Well, in real life, queer people do amazing things and there are more stories to tell than just the sad ones. Unfortunately, a lot of media hasn’t caught up with that reality yet. One of the major problems with this is, there are few enough stories putting queer characters front and center, and if all of those stories are queer tragedy, queer abuse, queer death, that’s not only depressing, it’s actively damaging. Those narratives get repeated, and they become the narrative. They become internalized and normalized. Queer people and straight people alike start to expect that tragic stories are what queer stories are supposed to look like. Queer kids looking to find themselves in fiction don’t see hope, they see that they can expect the world to shit on them. At best their suffering will help inspire a straight person and uplift them, but there’s no place for them in the world. That is a truly terrible message to put out in the world. That’s why it’s important to me that the Glitter Squadron are no one’s sidekicks. They are the heroines of their own stories. They face challenges, but most of those challenges aren’t related to their queerness, and regardless of the cause, when they do suffer, they always fight back. They are self-rescuing princesses.

Spec Can: What are some important things to keep in mind when writing about queerness?

A.C. Wise: Like writing about any identity, it’s important to remember there isn’t one single way to express it. There’s no one ‘right’ way to be queer. Related to that, every reader is different, and they bring their own life experience with them when they read. Authors writing about any identity that isn’t their own need to be prepared to listen. This is especially true for traditionally marginalized identities like queer identities. If a queer (or otherwise marginalized) reader points out something you got wrong as an author, listen to them. Don’t immediately get defensive or fall back on, ‘but my queer/black/female/etc.’ friend said it was okay. Your friend’s experience may be very different from the person your work hurt or offended. As I said above, there are few enough stories that put queer folks front and center, which means each one carries extra weight and has extra potential to do damage. It’s the same problem as the Lone Female Character. The solution to these problems is more characters and more stories spreading out the weight each story has to carry, and of course more stories from traditionally marginalized authors. Obviously those stories should also be approached respectfully, and characters should be written first and foremost as human beings.

Spec Can: “The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again” highlights the importance among the queer community of finding our own family and making our families from those who are important to us. Why was family such a central focus of this narrative and why is it important to show alternative, chosen family structures?

A.C. Wise: A lot of queer kids sadly do face rejection from the families they are born into, and sometimes, as a result of that, homelessness. For some people, the family they make is the only one they have, and I wanted some of the stories in the collection to highlight the idea that there is a community out there where people can be accepted and loved and find a place they can call home. At the same time, I didn’t want all the blood-family relationships to be negative either. Starlight has a fantastic relationship with her mother. Esmeralda’s story is all about reconnecting with the family she was born into. I wanted to show a variety of families, queer families, found families, adoptive families, children being raised by their grandparents. Just like there’s no one right way to be a woman, or no one right way to be queer, there’s no one right way to be a family.

Spec Can: What are some key things that we can be doing in our queer fiction to write narratives that interest and empower queer people?

A.C. Wise: Probably the most important thing is make sure there are spaces for queer people to tell their own stories. Projects like Queers Destroy SF/F/H from Lightspeed, presses like Lethe Press, podcasts like Glittership, and publications like Scigentasy which focuses on stories exploring the gender spectrum are crucial. It’s also important that those spaces aren’t seen as niche or one-off – all publications and publishing houses should strive to showcase a wide variety of voices and make room for stories that reflect the world as it is, not just a narrow segment of it.

Spec Can: What is so fascinating about superhero narratives? Why do we keep returning to them in our cultural interest?

A.C.Wise: Superheroes are like mythology and fairy tales. They are foundational stories upon which we build our culture. They give authors and creators archetypes to play with, reinterpret, re-imagine, and subvert. Many classic super hero stories also give us regular folks a kind of wish fulfillment fantasy. Spider-Man and the latest incarnation of Ms. Marvel are nerdy kids who get amazing super powers and save the world. If it can happen to them, maybe it can happen to us, too.

Spec Can: Why do you feel the secret identity motif is so important in superhero fiction?

A.C. Wise: Superhero secret identities are kind of fascinating. From an author/creator perspective, they allow for the exploration of several themes that are fundamental to the human experience. Trust – who do you let into your inner circle, who do you allow to see you without your mask on? Identity – at the core of your being, who are you, are you the hero, or the mild- mannered person going about their day? How do you protect the ones you love when you take on the responsibility of being a hero, or when you have it thrust upon you? What truths can you speak while wearing a mask that you can’t with your every day face?

Spec Can: One of your interests is in writing Lovecraftian-inspired or Weird fiction. What can Weird fiction do? What is its power as a genre?

A.C. Wise: I’ve always found the cosmic horror aspects of Lovecraftian fiction, or on a more Earth-bound scale, the natural world horror of Blackwood, appealing. Obviously, it’s not a cheerful thought, but the idea that humanity is small, and there are implacable things out there that aren’t out to destroy us because they’re evil, but may accidentally destroy us because they don’t even recognize our existence, is an attractive one in fiction. Stories where humanity meets alien life, and the human way is automatically assumed to be superior have always annoyed me. On the whole, the creeping oddness of Weird fiction is fun to read and to write about – that sense of dread, that something is wrong, but you can’t put your finger on it. Weird fiction has a way of slipping between the cracks, fitting itself into various genres. It’s flexible, and I like that.

Spec Can: What are some of the issues that come up in SF regarding the misogynistic portrayal of women?

A.C. Wise: One of the problems I see is that of the received narrative, or the perpetuated narrative. It’s like what you mentioned earlier about queer tragedy. There’s a danger of negative stories becoming the only stories we tell, and that negativity becoming the message we carry into the future. Raped women. Fridged women. Sidelined women. Erased women. Women who exist only to further the narrative of men, or women who aren’t there at all. This should not be the accepted norm. When we see it in our fiction, we should question it, challenge it, push back. If we don’t, people will continue to write and read these stories and think nothing of it, because that’s the way it’s always been.

Spec Can: What can SF do to promote a feminist message? How can SF empower women?

A.C. Wise: Some of the same things SF can do to empower queer stories – make sure there are spaces for women to tell their own stories. Make sure those stories aren’t separated out as ‘special interest’ or relevant only to women. Women’s stories are as universal as men’s stories. The idea that men and boys can’t/won’t/shouldn’t be asked to identify with female characters is ridiculous, and the marketers and decision makers at major publishers, movie studios, and television networks need to let it go.

Spec Can: Your fiction crosses a lot of genre boundaries. What are some of the challenges of cross-boundary writing?

A.C. Wise: I don’t specifically set out to cross boundaries. The stories I write just seem to turn out that way. One of the challenges, I suppose, can be finding an audience. I think that may be more of a problem when it comes to novels. Editors, publishers, and marketers need to know where a book will sit on the shelves in order help readers find it. Labels are useful for building an audience, but not so useful from the writing side of things. With short stories, there’s a bit more room for things that aren’t as easy to pin down to a single genre. Short fiction readers may follow an author or a publication and find new stories that way, as opposed to going to a specific shelf/category in a bookstore or online retailer.

Spec Can: What are some of the rewards of cross-boundary writing?

A.C. Wise: It’s fun! It doesn’t limit you to one particular sandbox, but lets you play in all of them.

Spec Can: What do you see as some of the social activist potentials of SF? What kinds of things can the speculative genres do to evoke new ways of thinking about the world?

A.C. Wise: Ideally art and literature of any kind can serve as a mirror to show humanity its best self. One argument people make for including rape in fiction is that it’s realistic. To that I say, so is two or more women talking about something other than their relationships with the men in their lives. So are pasts, presents, and futures that include queer people and people of color and people with disabilities. So why not tell those stories? Why not show the positive possibilities rather than perpetuating the same negative stories? That’s what SFF can and should do.

Spec Can: Are there any further ideas you would like to discuss?

A.C. Wise: Oh my. I think I’ve probably rambled on enough, but I sincerely appreciate you giving me the opportunity to do so. You asked wonderful questions, and I love Speculating Canada, so thank you for hosting me!

Spec Can: How can readers find out more about you and the work you are doing?

A.C. Wise: I maintain a sporadic blog at http://www.acwise.net, and tweet as @ac_wise. On the editorial side of things, Unlikely Story can be found at http://www.unlikely-story.com, and as @grumpsjournal on twitter.

Author photo for A.C. Wise

Author photo for A.C. Wise

 

 

I want to thank A.C. Wise for taking the time to do this interview. This has been a wonderful interview full of new and exciting insights.

All That Glitters..

All that Glitters…
A review of A.C. Wise’s “The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again” (Lethe Press, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

  
A.C. Wise’s “The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again” is as beautifully, sparklingly camp as the title suggests, mixing elements from raygun sci fi with a drag aesthetic. Whether drag queens, trans women, or cis-gendered women, the heroines in Wise’s novel are FIERCE. Whether fighting homophobia and misogyny at home or amongst the stars, The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron challenges assumptions and pushes for change. These characters are complex, powerful, and absolutely fabulous! 

Escaping from different problematic home environments and desiring a change, The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron create a diverse family of people who have sought to find themselves and have discovered a safe space to be who they are and kick but while being themselves. 

A.C. Wise combines images that are normally not associated in science fiction – drag and battle. Fiction often presents the figure of the drag queen as passive and powerless despite the fact that many drag performers have had to fight for every bit of respect and safety they have earned. Wise recognizes that drag communities are in perpetual struggles, perpetual battles to make space for themselves in a world that either erases or fetishises them. There is a FIERCE power in the figure of the drag queen, a figure who resists the control of normativity and is willing to challenge the powers of heteronormativity by being fabulous in public, by meeting the gaze of those who would judge and staring back. The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron transforms the fear they experience into strength, looking for opportunities to empower themselves and others.

The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron, this assemblage of mighty, modern glamazons, is not only made up of drag queens but also trans women and cis-gendered women, uniting in the expression of the power of femininity and unwilling to be disempowered by patriarchy or heteronormativity. These women challenge the way that society presents femininity to us, the audience, and express new ideals of feminine beauty, expression, power, and resistance… and they do it all without casting shade on one another. 

Despite all of the glitter, one shouldn’t assume that this is a fluffy book… well, it does feature a character named Bunny…. but this book combines the power of playful, glittery, shiny fun with messages of empowerment and working together as women of diverse backgrounds to challenge assumptions and re-make the world. “The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again” is as clever as it is campy. 

This is definitely a read that you want to have next to a disco ball, wearing your finest, glitteriest frock, with a martini in hand. Prepare yourself to read some DRAG ’em out battles.

To discover more about A.C. Wise, visit her website at http://www.acwise.net

To find out more about “The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again” and other Lethe Press titles, visit their website at http://www.lethepressbooks.com

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 57: An Interview with Joanne Findon

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I interview Joanne Findon – author, professor, medievalist, and specialist in children’s literature. We discuss the complicated category of children’s literature and the fact that children’s lit has a great deal to teach (especially to adult readers). We explore ideas of time travel and the importance of history, medievalism, folklore, feminism, empowerment, and Canadiana.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below.

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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.

 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 18: An Interview with Gemma Files

Gemma Files and I have been on a few panels together in the past and I have always found her incredible fun to talk to, so I was really excited that at Fan Expo Canada this year she managed to have a bit of time to do an interview that I could share with all of you listeners. Our interview is hilarious and simultaneously covers serious issues, marked with laughter and also important social questions. In our chat on Trent Radio, we discuss the use of Toronto by the film industry as the “EveryCity”… and the potential for horror in that anonymity and shapeshifting ability. We talk about Queer or LGBTQ2 content and kink communities and how these have lent themselves to the development of her fantastic fiction… particularly her Hexslingers series which features gay cowboys who use magic. We discuss the use of family and history in CanLit and how these can be factors making for a speculative story that is just as powerful for questioning ideas of ‘traditional families’. Gemma lends her insights about using characters who are morally ambiguous as well as the general problems with creating a ‘perfect hero’ and questioning of the whole social idea of ‘The Hero’. Overall, we venture into questions about subversive writing and the power to turn tropes on their heads as a way of empowering readers and authors.

Gemma talks about functional bisexuality in her characters, trans characters, and the general fluidity of gender and sexuality as a way of illustrating that change is powerful and that characters do change and transform and question notions of identity over time.

As part of her discussion of the subversive potential in literature, Gemma examines the wonderful world of fan fiction and the ability of fan fiction to insert questions into narratives that may not have otherwise asked them. She explores the ability of fan fiction to assert an otherwise ignored voice or people who are generally erased. She also examines the ability of fan fiction to serve as a queer medium allowing for gender or sexual transformations for characters.

Overall, our interview is a lot of laughs, a lot of fun, and a lot of social questions. At the end of this interview, you will find yourself being fairy-led to the bookstore to get some of Gemma’s books while simultaneously plotting out your next fan fiction story!

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.

 

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.