Mute Ghost in a World of Words

A review of S.M. Beiko’s The Lake and the Library (ECW Press, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo for The Lake and the Library courtesy of ECW press

Cover Photo for The Lake and the Library courtesy of ECW press

S.M. Beiko’s The Lake and the Library is nominally a story about growing up, and the feeling of nostalgia for things lost and things changing. It is about the discovery of a library filled with books that are gateways to fantastic worlds, pages that become birds, clouds, and wings to lift her to new highs of fantasy. The library is a shifting space, becoming other worlds as walls are expanded by the great breadth of adventure and fantasy within the covers of the books it houses, literally shifting to become fantastic spaces from beloved classics. And the library holds a boy, unable to speak aloud, but able to speak volumes in the universal language of fantasy with Ash as his co-creator of worlds of adventure.

The first part of the novel evokes the highs of an escape, new experiences, exiting distortions of reality, and only in the latter half of the novel does it become clear that this is an addict’s tale. Ash begins to experience the dangers and draws of being in a continual state of escape. Reality begins to wear thin for her and she begins to distance herself from anyone who doesn’t enable her habit, anyone who pulls her back to reality. Friends, family, all begin to be sacrificed to her need, her desire to get away from herself, her world, and all that feels too mundane, too real to matter.

The world outside of the library begins to shift, become unstable for Ash, losing its substance as something grows within her, thorns that tear into her skin, holding her, consuming her from the inside and pulling her back to the library. Fantasy begins to eat into reality, making the real a pale and lifeless substitute for the highs of the fantastic. And when reality gets to be too much, a sound like rushing water surges through her, enveloping her in its wash of abstraction, removing her from a world that seems too harsh, too sharp, too real for her to touch. The water cushions her while it draws her deeper, washing away signification and everything that made her who she was.

The library is haunted by memory, nostalgia, the dreams of things lost and forgotten, and yet it has power, a deep hold like thorns in the veins of those who seek to escape, those willing to uproot themselves and lose the ground that feels like it is only holding them in place.

Libraries are beautiful places, deep places, charged with a depth made of the weight of tales, and this depth can both add to one’s story, but can also consume and obscure one’s story. Ash finds herself suspended in a depth of tales that renders her as a drop in a lake, her story washed away by the weight of other worlds more alluring to her than her own life.

To find out more about the work of S.M. Beiko, visit her website at .

To read more about The Lake and the Library, visit ECW’s website at





Haunting Disability

A review of Mark Leslie’s “Hereinafter Referred to as the Ghost” in Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast (Edge, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo for Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast courtesy of

Cover Photo for Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast courtesy of

With our youth-obsessed culture, actors generally only have a very short period in which to be celebrated for their acting career before they are viewed as “old”, “tired”, and they begin to be passed over for roles…. So, what happens when a ghost known for his great performances as other ghosts and haunting phenomena in the past starts to lose his power to change forms, his power to create a chill in the air, and his ability to fade in and out of mortal sight?

Mark Leslie’s “Hereinafter Referred to as the Ghost” explores the UNlife of Patrick Collins, a ghost who has stretched his abilities to the limit and now is experiencing his decline as one of the great haunting actors of the past. Ghosts take on a diversity of haunting roles, performing the expectations of human beings about famous historical locations, inspiring hope and imagination in human witnesses about the greater extent of reality. Patrick had been hired to perform multiple haunting roles in the past: the Flying Dutchman, Anne Boleyn, the Countess of Salisbury, taking roles as all of the great ghosts of history and adding to their mythology. But lately he has been feeling his age and losing his abilities. It hurts to transform into the shapes of other ghosts and leaves him with a massive headache, when he tries to take on female forms he ends up still looking like a man. The pain and loss of ability reminds him of the arthritis he developed late in his human life, but he persists in trying to take on big acts, wanting to maintain his reputation as one of the great ghost actors.

Patrick is losing contracts with Ghostlife Experiences, passed over for younger specters with less experience and his reputation is declining as he isn’t able to take on the roles that he used to. What is a ghost to do when the world calls for big, showy performances that his body can no longer handle?

Mark Leslie takes a critical look at changes in ability and the accommodations that accompany them. Abstracting this experience of aging and changes in ability over time onto the figure of the ghost, he invites us to look at the notion that glory is fleeting, changeable, and that as we age, we are in a continual process of mourning what we once saw ourselves as capable of doing.

You can explore Mark Leslie’s work at .

Read more about the collection Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast on Edge’s website at

Upcoming Interview with Michael Rowe on Wednesday, December 18th

I have been a fan of Michael Rowe’s work for some time, and was really pleased that he was willing to take some time to do an interview with me so shortly after the publication of his recent novel Wild Fell. Rowe is an accomplished journalist and horror author.

Check out our upcoming interview on Wednesday, December 18th

In our upcoming interview, Michael Rowe discusses the switch from non-fiction to fiction writing, the power of horror, the use of ordinary people in horror, small town culture, the history of residential schools in Canada, the impact of social repression,  the issue with the use of LGBTQ characters for shock value, homophobia in horror, LGBTQ2 literature, the tremendous appeal of ghost stories, changes in the figure of the vampire over time, horror and loss, and the gothic potential of the Northern landscape.

Here are a few highlights from our interview:

Michael Rowe: “The body is our first haunted house. We live in it. We haunt it. We are literally our own ghosts.”

Michael Rowe: “I think what horror and indeed most speculative fiction does is enable the writer to shift and bend the boundaries of the narrative to reveal more texture and subtext about otherness and the outsider experience.”

Michael Rowe: “Much of horror is often about bad things happening to ordinary people, which, by definition, negates the notion of any intrinsic “otherness” unless the story is being told from the perspective of an entity that is extraordinary.”

Michael Rowe: Everything happens in small towns. I was and am entranced at the way the currents and counter-currents that bind people in small towns can be both beautiful and horrifying.”

Michael Rowe: “The metaphors just write themselves. That’s what vampires do. They drain you of blood and turn you into something else.”

Michael Rowe: “The residential school system in Canada, run by churches, is a stain on our national identity that shames me, on a deep level, as a Canadian. The collusion between the churches and the Canadian government that yielded that system is the very definition of vampirism to me.”

Michael Rowe: “Repression and suppression do two things: they isolate, and they create monsters. The isolation weakens the victim and makes them vulnerable, and hides any number of horrors behind a façade of propriety. Repression also bottles up rage and God knows what else which, when unleashed, is often devastating. You could write reams about the parallels between the way society makes monsters, and the way it makes monsters out of those who are already vulnerable and marginalized.”

Michael Rowe: The notion of the vampire as a gothic lover has never really resonated with me, and that appears to still be the dominant current image. I like my vampires terrifying, and only seductive in the service of his vampirism, like Christopher Lee at the top of the winding stone staircase in Horror of Dracula.

Michael Rowe: “Queer Fear was the first-ever gay horror anthology. We didn’t want it to be erotica, we wanted it to be horror stories where LGBTQ identity was a given, not something injected for shock value.”

Michael Rowe: “So many of us started life as observers and outsiders, not necessarily in the mainstream.  I know that informs a lot of my own work.”

Michael Rowe: “I think many people would like to believe the sprits of the dead could haunt them, but actually don’t believe it. Ghost stories are that marvellous spaces in between, where readers can enjoy the thrill of seeing in happen to someone else without paying the price themselves.”

Michael Rowe: “What horror allows both the reader and the writer to do is to explore both darkness and redemption by staring both in the face and naming them for what they are. When the narrative boundaries are as flexible and permeable as they are in horror fiction, the ways to tell those stories, to examine the human condition, increases exponentially.”

Michael Rowe: “Forced loss informs a great deal of my fiction—loss of innocence, loss of sanity, loss of beloved friends and relatives, loss of lovers.”

Tune in on Wednesday, December 18th to read out interview. If you haven’t yet had a chance to read Mr. Rowe’s work, you can check out his website at . If you have a chance, you can check out reviews of some of Mr. Rowe’s novels at and

Enjoy some delightful winter chills.


A review of Gemma Files’ “Kissing Carrion” in Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction (Exile Editions, 2013)

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction

Cover Photo of Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction

By Derek Newman-Stille

Gemma Files’ “Kissing Carrion” contains the kind of gross sexuality that will mean that you will never quite enjoy sex the same way again. She sexualises the grotesque and grotesques the sexual in a journey into the taboo and forbidden. There is something about hearing about sex with a dead body and the glistening mixture of lube and puss that haunts one’s nightmares for a long time after reading this short story. Files brings the reader into the taboo world of necrophiliac fetishists and to questions about life, death, and the sexual.

Pat wants to make a form of disturbing dark art, and in her desire to go to the extremes and to entertain bored ultra-fetishists, she creates carrionettes, bodies animated by wires and levers like some disturbing dead, rotting Pinocchios. When Pat meets Ray, a porn star who wants to be penetrated by death, believing that this is the ultimate interplay with universal powers, she unintentionally enters into a macabre love triangle – puppeteer, fetishist, and corpse. As the puppeteer, she is the one having sex with Ray, using her levers and pulleys to push the dead body’s penis into him… but things are less easy than they seem when the body’s soul, forced to watch his body used as a sex toy, an appendage on display, finally takes a leap into his desiccating flesh and decides to penetrate Ray in another way… with teeth.

Files not only brings up the disturbing image of necrophilia, but makes the body a victim of rape, a powerless spirit that has to watch his body being forced into sexual acts. Files reverses the assumptions about rape by having the victim of the rape instead of being the penetrated body becoming the penetrator, though not of his own volition or desire. Files unsettles her readers, pushing them out of their comfort zone and pulling them along on the wild fetishistic ride along with the disembodied spirit of a carrionette.

You can explore more of Gemma Files’ work at
Find out more about Dead North: Canadian Zombie Fiction at

Short Story Reading From Ian Rogers – reading “Vogo”

Speculating Canada is one year old as of today and to celebrate Ian Rogers prepared this author reading of his short story Vogo. Ian has been a huge supporter of Speculating Canada, so I was honoured that he was willing to do a reading for us and provide an audio file for listeners. Thank you also to Trent Radio and Alissa Paxton in particular for recording this file.

Happy anniversary, readers and listeners!!

Ian Rogers’ short story “Vogo” is from his collection Every House is Haunted (ChiZine Publications, 2012). You can find out more about Ian Rogers at and can check out his collection Every House is Haunted at

Explore Trent Radio at

Explore Trent Radio at

Magic, Mazes, and Math

A Review of Ari Goelman’s The Path of Names (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013)

Cover photo courtesy of

Cover photo courtesy of

By Derek Newman-Stille

Despite wanting to go to math camp and magic camp, Dahlia is convinced by her parents to attend Jewish camp. It comes complete with everything she would expect – sports, crafts, outdoor activities, friends, Hebrew lessons, and mean girls… and a few things she doesn’t expect – dreams from another person’s memory, sudden knowledge she didn’t possess before, kabbalistic magic, possession, conspiracies, and dead girls. Jewish camp ends up combining the best and worst of math and magic camp with real supernatural events and important magical numbers from kabbalistic literature.

In Ari Goelman’s The Path of Names, Dahlia’s diseffected boredom turns into desperate battle she learns that she needs to solve mysteries both magican and murdrous in order to save her fellow campers. She just wants to be normal, like other kids her age, but she is an outsider not just because she is clever and has an interest in math and magic, but because the magical has an interest in her and the numbers are not in her favour.

Dahlia has to prevent secrets of Judaism from once again being stolen from the Jewish people and used for personal gain.

To read more about Ari Goelman, you can visit his website at . To read more about The Path of Names and other Arthur A. Levine Books, you can visit their website at .

Rejected by Magic

A Review of Erin Bow’s Plain Kate (Scholastic Inc., 2012)

Cover photo of Plain Kate courtesy of the publisher.

Cover photo of Plain Kate courtesy of the publisher.

By Derek Newman-Stille

In a world where magic is real and witches are hunted, Erin Bow’s Plain Kate explores society’s trend of scapegoating people who are different, making villains out of people who don’t fit the ideas of normal behaviour. Plain Kate is a woman whose appearance is plain, but who has two different coloured eyes, marking her as a social target. She is made even more of a target because she is clever and talented. Others can’t accept that her skills are natural or due to incredible effort on her part, they automatically attribute her skills to witchcraft and persecute her, driving her out of her home and away from her community.

In her desire to find a place for herself, and escape from the hate around her, Plain Kate makes a deal with a witch who has come to town: she trades her own shadow for a way to survive on her own… and in the process unintentionally expresses her secret wish for a companion. Her cat is suddenly gifted with the ability to speak and becomes something in-between human and cat as Plain Kate becomes something between living and dead, a woman without a shadow who feels herself fading away.

Kate takes on the name “Plain Kate”, trying to mark herself as plain in appearance, not noticeable and easily missed. Giftedness is dangerous in her community, so Plain Kate finds other social outcasts, outsiders and those who have been expelled from their societies. Plain Kate finds a group of people called Roamers, other people who are persecuted who live on the fringes. She learns their customs and finds a new place for herself, a family.

Plain Kate is not left alone with her new community, she is followed by a sleeping sickness, a monster in the fog, and a witch bent of vengeance for his sister’s death.  Plain Kate’s shadow has been shared with a rusalka, a figure from myth: a drowned woman who haunts the edges of life. Kate’s compassion compels her to sacrifice herself for the very community that had rejected and outcast her.

Plain Kate is a novel steeped in magic, where the mysteries flow off of the page and into your imagination.

To find out more about Erin Bow, you can explore her website at . To find out more about Plain Kate, you can check out Scholastic’s website at