Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 71: An Interview of Regina Hansen

On this episode of Speculating Canada, I interview the brilliant Regina Hansen to talk about the interrelationship between academia and speculative writing, on the ideas of haunting, and on notions of place and identity. 

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


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.

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Spectres of Homophobia

Review of Michael Rowe’s Ghosts (Postscripts to Darkness 2014, http://pstdarkness.com/2014/08/08/ghosts-by-michael-rowe/ )

Photo of the painting that was used for the cover for Michael Rowe's "Ghosts", courtesy of Postscripts to Darkness. Painting by Derek Newman-Stille

Photo of the painting that was used for the cover for Michael Rowe’s “Ghosts”, courtesy of Postscripts to Darkness. Painting by Derek Newman-Stille

LGBTQ2 populations are haunted by the spectre of violence. Our lives are inscribed with threat and many of us have been victims of multiple violent attacks. Stories like that of Matthew Shepard who was beaten and left to die in a field by homophobic groups haunt queer experience, even, in that case, entering into the artistic world and songs like Melissa Etheridge’s “Scarecrow”.

This experience of feeling haunted by the spectre of violence, of having one’s life marked by the potential of being the victim of homophobic attack marks the lives of LGBTQ2 people. Perhaps that is why it is so refreshing to see Michael Rowe’s story “Ghosts”, where in addition to queer populations being haunted by the spectre of violence, those who have allowed that violence and created a culture of permitting it are haunted by the ghosts of loss and regret.

“Ghosts” is a tale about a brother who hated his younger brother for being gay, seeing his brother’s homosexuality as a threat to his own masculinity and reputation. When friends of Robert, spurred on by his own homophobia beat his little brother Scott to death, Robert comes to realize the loss he has experienced and the absence left in his life at the loss of his brother. The pain is his to experience as someone who permitted anti-gay violence to occur. Robert sees the spectral presence of his younger brother everywhere, his life marked perpetually by what he allowed to occur.

Rowe’s story is so refreshing because it facilitates the idea that a life lost through homophobic violence is a loss for all of society, not just for the LGBTQ2 population and the loss should be sharpest and most haunting for those who let that violence occur, who stand by and do nothing, or who spur on that violence even if they are not directly perpetrating it.

Rowe reminds us that we, as a society, are haunted by the spectre of homophobic violence and that it should not be just LGBTQ2 populations that feel this loss and feel the presence of those killed or harmed by violence, but rather all of us as a society.

This is a painfully beautiful story about family, homophonic violence, and loss.

You can read this story online on Postscripts to Darkness’s website at http://pstdarkness.com/2014/08/08/ghosts-by-michael-rowe/

To find out more about the work of Michael Rowe, you can visit his website at http://www.michaelrowe.com

Shattered Glass

A review of Michael Rowe’s Wild Fell (ChiZine Publications, 2013)

Cover photo of Wild Fell courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo of Wild Fell courtesy of ChiZine Publications


By Derek Newman-Stille

Our worlds are shaped by memory, by our own histories and those of the people and places around us. Memory haunts the pages of Michael Rowe’s Wild Fell, and so does the loss of memory.

Jamie’s life has been shaped by memory and loss. His father is gradually losing his memory to Alzheimer’s, and, after a car accident, Jamie lost his own memory, and, particularly his own childhood, to brain damage. He is left in an uncertain place, a strange place between what he knows to be true and what he can’t trust in himself. He is left in a haunted space.

Ghost stories are dark reflections of our dreams about the past, our anxieties, our worries, and the things that we repress, and, from an early age when Jamie looked into his mirror, he could see a dark reflection of himself, a haunted presence from within, a friend within the mirror who haunted him and pushed him toward change. As a child, Jamie had created a friend to deal with loneliness, Mirror Pal, but over time she gradually started to take on a life of her own, shaping herself in his image and taking on an identity of her own as Amanda. She would speak through the young boy’s voice, shaping his throat into her words and trying to shape him into her own image by pushing him gradually to make decisions that she would make. His Mirror Pal made him her own dark reflection.

Small towns are haunted places, shaped by their own history and the gossip that permeates them, and Jamie is pulled toward the small Northern Ontario town of Alvina by this mirrored friend from the past. She leads him to a new home, abandoned to history and myth: Wild Fell. Jamie is led to this new (though ancient) home through a combination of losses – his father, his memory, his marriage, and his job. He seeks to create a new place of belonging… in a place that resists newness, an ancient house in the middle of an abandoned lake outside of a small town.

Wild Fell itself stands as a dark, ancient character, standing ominously on the precipice of history and evoking a timeless quality and the haunted potential of abandoned historical houses. It literally refuses to age, seeming to await its owner as though still occupied, as though its inhabitants are merely on a temporary vacation and will return at any moment. It is a place of returns.

We like to think of ourselves as having all of the power when buying a house – making it ours. But what if we are claimed by our houses? What if they chose us? What if ownership in turn owns us? We are terminal beings and our houses can outlast us – is it any wonder that they begin to accumulate memories, myths, and murmurs of the otherworldly? We are haunted by histories we are not part of – foreign terrains of the past that invite investigation.

In Wild Fell, Rowe reminds us that we create reality through memory, construct it out of flashes of neurons… and that reality can change as our memories change. Nothing is fixed, nothing static, but all shiftings of sleep sand and illusions. Wild Fell serves as a dark reminder that everything about our identity is changeable – gender, identity, personality, and desire. Our bodies and spirits interact in complex ways, and nothing about ourselves is stationary. Rowe explores the way we can change with changes in our memories, exploring the relationship between abuse and forgetting – memories that are erased due to trauma that re-surface late like an island in the centre of a dark lake. Wild Fell is made timeless by the abuse within its walls, the haunting return of the repressed – the shattered glass of our mirrored, reflected selves.

To explore some of Michael Rowe’s other work, you can explore his website at http://www.michaelrowe.com/ .

To get your own copy of Wild Fell, check out the ChiZine Publications website at http://chizinepub.com/ .

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.

Magic, Mazes, and Math

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

Cover photo courtesy of http://arigoelman.com/blog/

Cover photo courtesy of http://arigoelman.com/blog/

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 http://arigoelman.com/ . To read more about The Path of Names and other Arthur A. Levine Books, you can visit their website at http://www.arthuralevinebooks.com/ .

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 http://www.erinbow.com/ . To find out more about Plain Kate, you can check out Scholastic’s website at http://www.scholastic.ca/titles/plainkate/