A Review of Gemma Files’ A Rope of Thorns: Volume Two in the Hexslinger Series (ChiZine Publications, 2011)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo for A Rope of Thorns courtesy of ChiZine Publications.

Cover photo for A Rope of Thorns courtesy of ChiZine Publications.

With A Rope of Thorns Gemma Files has written a Dionysian text. Like the Greek god, the world she creates is one of fluids and fluidity – of blood, Absynthe, semen, and sap – and these are intertwined in the form of her character Chess. He is a creature of raw sexuality and transformation – a queer cowboy turned magical demi-god after his flaying in A Book of Tongues. His godly characteristics in A Rope of Thorns, given to him by a Mayan deity through his flaying,  have meant that wherever he travels a weed follows, springing up on the landscape and only appeased when blood sacrifice is offered as it was to the Mayan deities who turned him into this demi-god.

Chess is a figure of flow and flux, constantly changing, uneasy in his personal and physical transformations.

Howver, this is no lazy Dionysian reverie, but rather a full on Bacchic revelry, complete with all of the pulse pounding drums of maenadic madness and delight in the spatter of fluids. Files pulls something from the liquid dark with this text, playing with audience desires and the twining of horror and delight.

And like a good Bacchic revelry, A Rope of Thorns is delightfully subversive, playing with the expectations of a Western novel with its hegemonic masculinity by bringing in male lovers, turning the genre on its head. Her characters are sexually fluid, changing as desires flux and situations change, not stuck in one sexual identity as many characters in Westerns tend to be.

The term Weird Western has been tossed about, but Gemma Files adds another delightful element to the western and creates a Queered Western as beautifully flexible as her gay cowboy protagonist Chess Pargeter.

To read more about Gemma Files’ work, visit her website at http://musicatmidnight-gfiles.blogspot.ca/

To read more about A Rope of Thorns visit ChiZine Publications’ website at http://chizinepub.com/books/rope_of_thorns.php

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.