The End is Only The Beginning

A review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s collection Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse (Exile Editions, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of Fractured courtesy of Exile Editions

Cover photo of Fractured courtesy of Exile Editions

Flooding, ghosts, spreading oil sinkholes, whitenoise, bio weapons, nuclear bombs, sudden population disappearances, a strange rotting of the landscape, persistent sleep, the drying of the world’s lakes, alien invasion, shadows, plague, constant rain, technological crashes, ruptures into the abyss, fires… the visions of the apocalypse are multifaceted and Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse imagines new nuances of each potential end. But ultimately, this is not a collection about the end, not about the apocalypse itself, but the experience of the end and the way that the end can be a beginning of a changed world, a world that envisions a separation from the past but is still haunted by its memory. Fractured imagines what characters in the post-Apocalypse are feeling, how they are making meaning out of their experiences, how they are coping with severe changes to their world, and ultimately, the loneliness that comes from facing the end. This is a volume of endings that embody beginnings.

The term apocalypse means revelation, the revealing of things and ultimately this volume reveals the nuanced experience of endings and focuses on people coping with the notion of the end, the thought about the idea of endings itself. It is a volume of change, memory, isolation, and desire.

Fractured looks that the connection between human and landscape and how each mirrors and is influenced by the other, illustrating hoe we are shaped by each other – place and people. It is a collection of scavenging from the past and collecting the detritus and rubbish of our civilisation as treasures, reminding us of our privilege to be living in a pre-apocalyptic world.

The post-apocalypse is as much about meaning as it is about survival.

To discover more about Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse, visit Exile Editions’ website at exileeditions.com

You can find a review of some of the short stories in this collection at

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2014/11/28/ectoplasmopocalypse/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2014/04/09/hollow-signals/

 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 11: Nelvana of the Northern Lights

For this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio I examine Canada’s first superheroine Nelvana of the Northern Lights. Dressed in Blue and Green with a fur-trimmed skirt and green cape with northern lights dancing around her headband she flew around wielding the powers of the Northern Lights to keep Canada safe from invasion, pollution, and destruction while venturing into worlds beneath the arctic and in the static within radio waves.

Written by Adrian Dingle during WWII, Nelvana of the Northern Lights portrayed a particular brand of Canadian identity – embodying the North and exploring notions of Canadian identity and the indigenously superheroic.

Take a moment now to find out about this superpowered woman (who predated Wonder Woman) who represented a particular brand of Canadian identity at a time of insecurity and uncertainty.

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.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

Slippery Landscapes

A review of Kate Storey’s Blasted (Killick Press, 2008).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Steeped in the rich fairy lore of Newfoundland and a sense of longing for home, Kate Story’s Blasted is a novel about dislocation. Story’s stream of consciousness style of writing beautifully enhances the sense of temporal and special dislocation represented by movement through and slippage into fairy realms. Her poetic use of language adds to the depth of the landscape, it’s history, and the people upon it, reveling in the simultaneous beauty and terror embedded in the land.

Cover photo from Kate Story's "Blasted" courtesy of http://www.katestory.com/

Cover photo from Kate Story’s “Blasted” courtesy of http://www.katestory.com/

Newfoundland, as an island landscape of harsh extremes, fog, snow, unclear edges… it is a perfect location for fairy stories and a tradition of wandering into the fairy lands and being lost. As a place that experiences a great deal of emigration – the loss of population to other locations out of the belief that there will be better economic opportunities elsewhere – it has become a place of loss, a place of inconsistencies of population, a shifting populace where people ARE lost. Story combines this narrative of loss and the feeling of diaspora, of being separated from home, among Newfoundlanders who have left the island, with the losses into the fairy landscape – a place where people disappear, where people are led and lured into another place and pulled from home.

Ruby is a character who is enmeshed in both types of loss and dislocation – economy-led to Toronto with the belief that there are better economic opportunities, and fairy-led into Fairy from a difference in her blood, a family disposition to wander into fairy. Her sense of home is disrupted, discontinuous, yet no less strong.

Ruby’s family history has been kept secret, Othering her in her own home. Fairies in Newfoundland are considered to be beings that it is best not to speak about, and suffering in Ruby’s family is believed to be increased by being discussed. But this secrecy, carried out through the belief that it will keep Ruby safe, leaves her unprepared for the realities of her family and its interactions with “Them”, the fairies, the strangers who are also intimately close – in the landscape, in her home, and within her blood.

You can discover more about Kate Story on her website at http://www.katestory.com/

To find out more about Blasted and other Killick Press books, visit their website at http://www.creativebookpublishing.ca/en/index.cfm?main=groupdescription&poid=278

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 2: An Interview with Chadwick Ginther and Discussion of his Work

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, check out an interview with Winnipeg author Chadwick Ginther where he discusses his Thunder Road trilogy. In our interview we talk about notions of heroism and villainy, moral ambiguities, the interplay of Canadian legends and Norse myths, the landscape, urban fantasy and horror.

After our interview, I get a chance to talk about his novels Thunder Road and Tombstone Blues.

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.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

Tune in Tonight at 8:00 PM EST for the Second Speculating Canada on Trent Radio show

I had a chance to chat with Winnipeg author Chadwick Ginther and discuss the Thunder Road trilogy at the Toronto-based speculative conference Ad Astra. In our interview we talk about his upcoming stories, why Loki from Norse mythology is such a fascinating figure, the potential to blur gender boundaries in SF, bringing myths from elsewhere to the Canadian landscape, interconnections between local stories and myths of elsewhere, living in a transnational community, the potential for his novel Tombstone Blues to take on horror characteristics, recreating Thor as a monster, and the relationship between the mundane and the magical.

Chadwick Ginther plays with our notions of the heroic and the villainous, challenging any easy reading. Hear about the way he plays with myth, challenging our assumptions and bringing new ideas into our conceptions of the mythical.

Check out Ginther’s process of creating modern myths and building worlds from fragments of legend from the past on this, our second radio show of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio.

Trent Radio second Icon

Tune in tonight at 8:00 PM EST to Trent Radio (92.7 FM in the broadcast range or online at http://www.trentu.ca) for an interview with Chadwick Ginther and a discussion of his Thunder Road trilogy.

Graphic Noir

A review of Drew Hayden Taylor, Alison Kooistra, and Michael Wyatt’s The Night Wanderer: A Graphic Novel (Annick Press, 2013, Toronto)
By Derek Newman-Stille

I have been finding comics unsatisfying in recent years because too many of them have been cutting down on dialogue. I tend to like a lot of dialogue and narrative movement in a graphic novel, so I was excited to see that the graphic adaptation of Drew Hayden Taylor’s novel The Night Wanderer blended text and image effectively, creating a complete story.

Alison Kooistra’s adaptation of Hayden Taylor’s novel pulls out the effective characteristics of the novel and presents a complete story. This is a story about two entwined lives – one beginning and one reaching its completion. It has been 300 years since the man calling himself Pierre L’Errant has returned home to Otter Lake. The world has changed drastically. 300 years ago, L’Errant was an Anishinaabe youth who sought adventure and left his home with the pale faced visitors to his land.  When he arrives in Otter Lake, he meets with Tiffany, a young woman who is bored of res life at the Otter Lake reserve and seeking adventure. As a vampire, L’Errant has 300 years of knowledge to share with Tiffany, wisdom from the past. Two periods of time intersect as L’Errant explores his own history and connection to the landscape he left while teaching Tiffany to appreciate the place she calls home and not to move too quickly away from her land or lose touch with the history of her place.

Tiffany has to cope with the multiple pulls on her identity, the pull on her identity from school, friends, and boyfriends. Only a vampire can bring her the history of her place to realise what has changed and what remains the same and to share with her his curiosity about the land he called home. His passion to return, to re-visit the place of his youth and humanity permeates the novel, inviting the reader into the longing for home that people in diaspora have. Being a vampire means that L’Errant is pulled in multiple directions from multiple longings – the desire to find home and to complete his life in a place where his identity was shaped… and, of course, the longing for blood, something attached to his life in Europe when he was transformed into a vampire. His return has caused him to fast, to hold back his urge for blood and focus on finding his place in his significantly changed home.

Michael Wyatt’s art work blends effectively with the message of the story. The grey scale he uses for the novel lends an air of the gothic to these pages, and makes the red of blood stand out more… and the red of the vampire’s eyes. These sharp strikes of red become more potent for the viewer. An abundance of colour would have lost the shock and power of the vampire’s reaction to blood and his fundamental difference and otherness. In the splashes of red, the viewer is invited into the attention that the blood evokes from the vampire, making it ever-present and visually alluring.

Since most of the novel takes place at night, the use of grey shades evokes the feel of night to the graphic novel, pushing the viewer into the indistinctness of dusk and the uncertainty that comes with a story full of change and surprise.

Change is a significant part of Hayden Taylor’s story and Wyatt effectively uses his artwork to invite viewers to see the multiple juxtapositions of the current era (Tiffany’s time) and the past (L’Errant’s place of origin). He uses fog across panels to invite the reader to see the presence of change, and overlays panels from modernity over the past and vice versa to show that time is layered and that the past always dwells beneath the surface of the present. This layering is effective when L’Errant is uncovering items from his time period and sharing them with Tiffany: arrowheads, rocks that were once sacred and have been the seat for multiple people’s bottoms over time as they contemplated their place in the universe. Hayden Taylor’s story and Wyatt’s artwork highlight the changeability of the landscape and remind the reader that the stones we touch and the environments we inhabit have history.

The vampire in this narrative serves as a reminder of the fact that although landscapes and situations may change, there are always things that stay the same, hauntings from the past that we need to pay attention to – reminding us that people have been experiencing the same struggles and challenges before and will again in the future.

To find out more about The Night Wanderer: A Graphic Novel, visit Annick Press’ website at http://www.annickpress.com/Night-Wanderer-A-Graphic-Novel-The

To read more about the work of Drew Hayden Taylor, visit his website at http://www.drewhaydentaylor.com/

To discover more about the artwork of Michael Wyatt, visit his page on the Annick Press website at http://www.annickpress.com/author/Mike-Wyatt .

Interview with Michael Rowe

An interview with Michael Rowe by Derek Newman-Stille

Michael Rowe is an accomplished journalist and horror author whose work I have enjoyed for many years (ever since the publication of the two volumes of LGBTQ2 horror Queer Fear and Queer Fear 2, which Rowe edited. I was extremely pleased that he was willing to do an interview here on Speculating Canada so soon after the publication of his novel Wild Fell. I hope you enjoy the following interview and all of Mr. Rowe’s insights. He, like many great horror authors, has the power to bring attention to things ignored, cast light into the dark corners of society, and take his readers out onto uncommon ground. This is an interview that continues the power of his horror work to bring readers into unfamiliar territory.IMG_3647 - Version 2

Spec Can: Prior to the publication of your first novel, Enter, Night in 2011, which was a finalist for both the Sunburst Award and the Aurora Award, you were known primarily as an award-winning essayist with several nonfiction books to his credit, and a journalist. You’ve now published your second novel with ChiZine Publications—Wild Fell, a ghost story set in Georgian Bay that has earned stellar praise from Clive Barker himself. How did the shift from non-fiction to fiction come about?

Michael Rowe: The shift had been coming for a while. My essays were becoming more autobiographical in content and more impressionistic in style. I wrote a novella a few years back called “In October” that was published in collection with two other writers. The book was titled Triptych of Terror: Three Chilling Tales by the Masters of Gay Horror. Aside from the subtitle’s hyperbolic elevation of me to one of the “masters” of anything, it was my first long-form fiction, running about 50K words.  When I set down to write Enter, Night, I started out with the fear that I wouldn’t have enough story to fill a novel, and ended with me wondering how I had reached 120K words without being at the end of the novel.

Spec Can: Is there something distinctive about Canadian horror? How so? What distinguishes it?

Michael Rowe:  I’ve always been fascinated by that question. To me—and this is personal—it’s been about setting the story squarely and unapologetically in Canada, and having Canadian points of reference with the expectation that the reader will go along with the story based on its own merits.

Spec Can: What can horror reveal about ‘otherness’ and the outsider experience?

Michael Rowe: There’s a great deal written about the “otherness” and the “monster” within when it comes to horror, but I also think that’s germane to good literature everywhere. 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. But in and of itself, 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.

Spec Can: Your novel Enter, Night explores a small town in Northern Ontario where difference is suppressed and vampires end up rising from the roots of the past and your newest novel Wild Fell explores a ghost story in a small Northern town. What evoked your interest in the small town environment, and why was this the perfect setting for your novels?

Michael Rowe: With the exception of the two years my family lived in the tiny Swiss village of Céligny, outside of Geneva, I’ve always lived in large cities. In the late-80s, my husband and I bought an old Victorian house in the small town of Milton, Ontario—which has since become a large, sprawling suburb, with no increase to its charm. We spent six years there, and I consider them to be six of my most formative years as a writer. 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. I suspect a lot of it has to do with the lack of anonymity in small towns. Anonymity is easily achieved in the city. It’s impossible in the country. In Milton, I would walk to the video store, about a mile from the house. By the time I got there, someone would have passed me in their car and waved. When I walk around in the city today, no one I know passes me in a car and notes what I’m doing. The anonymity is very liberating, but as a writer, I’ve always thrived on personal impact and collision, which is germane to the experience of living in a small town where you are in close proximity with people living their own lives, all the while aware of yours.

Spec Can: Among other things, Enter, Night deals with Canada’s colonial past and the mistreatment of aboriginal peoples. I am pleased to see that you brought attention to issues that are often suppressed in Canadian history such as the horrors of residential schools. I was wondering if you could expand on this and discuss why a horror novel about vampires was a great place to explore Canada’s history of mistreating Indigenous people?

Michael Rowe: I can’t speak for all vampire novels, but with regard to Enter, Night, the central theme was parasitical consumption, and vampire novels are occasionally a rich source of metaphor. The colonial settlers came to Canada and took native land. What they gave in return was brutality: genocide, disease, brutal laws, and toxic Christianity that later became the residential schools to which native children were consigned after being ripped away from their parents. The purpose of the schools was to “kill” the “Indian” in the child, drain the child of the child’s identity, and turn the child into a third-class Christian citizen of Canada, albeit an abused, battered one.

Spec Can:  How is cultural assimilation like a vampire draining its victim of his or her life and replacing that life with something else?

Michael Rowe: The metaphors just write themselves. That’s what vampires do. They drain you of blood and turn you into something else. The primary vampire antagonist in Enter, Night is a resurrected 17th century Jesuit priest who devastated an entire settlement of natives before being stopped the first time. The vampire had his own ideas about how best to colonize the native population. There are other varieties of parasites in Enter, Night besides vampires—the Parr family who owned the town stripped and mined it for its natural resources; Adeline Parr, the matriarch, stripped her gay son Jeremy of his dignity and terrorized the family; the town itself demanded a terrible price of its poorest and most vulnerable citizens. But while I’m not big on collective guilt, 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.

Spec Can: The theme of repression was a prominent one in both Enter, Night and Wild Fell. What role can horror provide in bringing attention to social repressions?

Cover photo of Enter, Night, courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo of Enter, Night, courtesy of ChiZine Publications

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

Spec Can: What mythologies of the vampire do you bring into your work?

Michael Rowe: Enter, Night was a deliberate, self-conscious, unapologetic, non-ironic mid-century vampire novel, with crucifixes, bats, wolves, no-reflection-in-mirrors red-eyed long-fanged vampires. That wasn’t an accident. Finn Miller, the young boy who is one of the heroes of the novel, learned most of what he knows about vampires from the Marvel Tomb of Dracula comic books, the same way I did when I was his age.

Spec Can: Why does the vampire fascinate modern audiences so much? What questions does the vampire raise in the reader’s mind?

Michael Rowe:  I have no idea. 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 their vampirism, like Christopher Lee at the top of the winding stone staircase in Horror of Dracula. That vision of the vampire endured for centuries, and it’s my personal favourite vision. I really loved 30 Days of Night, which is a much closer incarnation of what I think of when I think of vampires than anything else on the scene today, even if the brutality was a bit jarring to me. I’m not a fan of vampire romances, personally, though I would never begrudge anyone their own particular take on what has now become known as “the vampire genre.” As to questions vampires raise in the reader’s mind, I think the eternal question is, would you really want to live forever and watch everyone you love die, over and over again? That loneliness is a very valid them to be explored, and it has been, over and over again. And frankly, “vampire powers” would be pretty sweet.

Spec Can: Is there a “Canadian vampire”, a particular style of vampire that speaks to a Canadian audience or from a Canadian perspective?

Michael Rowe: I don’t think so, in my opinion. Vampires are more or less universal. Again, it gets back to setting. A Canadian vampire would be a vampire in Canada. Enter, Night featured Canadian vampires by default, and I flatter myself that they’d pass as vampires anywhere outside of Canada.

Spec Can: When you edited the Queer Fear anthologies, there was very little gay horror available. Has that changed in the past 12 years? What has contributed to the change or why hasn’t it changed?

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. The intention was to break ground more than to create an ongoing genre. LGBTQ readers have always read horror, they just haven’t seen themselves reflected in it. I have to once again point out Michael Marano’s brilliant, beautiful, heartbreaking horror novel Dawn Song, which features an openly gay protagonist. Is that “LGBTQ horror?” I’d say not. But the inclusion of a character whose sexual preference identity wasn’t trumpeted, but was rather an ensemble characteristic, is the best possible manifestation of “queer horror” in its ideal form.  I think we’ll see a lot more of this as the reading public becomes more and more comfortable with, and accustomed to, seeing more openly LGBTQ people in their lives, and in the culture. In the past, it was often the sexual orientation identity, which, itself, was “the horror.” This resulted in a lot of homophobic horror fiction in the past, usually accompanied by very bad writing. I suspect that if LGBTQ readers had found themselves being included in horror narratives the entire time, and not just as “monsters” because they were LGBTQ, the phrase “LGBTQ horror” probably wouldn’t exist, nor would there ever have been a hunger for it.

Spec Can: Is there something distinctive about queer or LGBTQ2 literature?

Michael Rowe: Once again, I’d have to say that the only difference is that it features openly LGBTQ characters in situations where they interact with each other and with the world at large as openly LGBTQ characters. Also, perhaps, the fact that it’s written by openly LGBTQ writers, and informed with an artistic aesthetic that derives from having observed life and time from the perspective of an LGBTQ person. But when it comes to that, we may be once again talking about notion of “the outsider,” at which point we’re back to talking about writers in general—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. I wasn’t always offered the choice between being an outsider and being an insider. The memory of that lack of choice lingers.

Spec Can: Where do you see LGBTQ2 horror and dark fantasy fiction going from here?

Michael Rowe: There will always be people who seek out LGBTQ horror and dark fantasy primarily because it involves LGBTQ characters. If the writing is good, and can stand on its own merits without the identity politics, I say more power to it. But I think that as sexuality and gender identity become less and less hot-button topics, we’ll see more integrated characters in the wider thrust of genre horror and dark fantasy fiction. In Wild Fell, there is the strong suggestion that one of the characters is transgender. To my way of thinking, that’s as natural as the character having brown hair and eyes. I’m no literary bellwether, but to me, the character’s identity was an organic outgrowth of the story I was telling. I suspect we’ll see more of that.

Spec Can: Horror and eroticism are often linked. What’s so sexy about horror?

Michael Rowe: I don’t personally find horror sexy in and of itself. I draw a distinction between “thrilling” and “sexy,” while acknowledging the possibility of an overlap. I think the themes of vulnerability and surrender probably inform a lot of that aesthetic. There’s a lot to be said for surrendering to a force greater than yourself, to wit, a vampire’s embrace. Being bitten in the throat isn’t sexy to me, but it apparently melts a lot of people’s butter. To each their own.

Spec Can: Many ghost stories open with disbelief on the part of the characters. Why is disbelief often a feature opening a ghost story? Why do we love to simultaneously believe and disbelieve them?

Cover photo of Wild Fell courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo of Wild Fell courtesy of ChiZine Publications

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 space in between, where readers can enjoy the thrill of seeing in happen to someone else without paying the price themselves. That said, it’s sort of extraordinary to me that vast numbers of people talk about having a “personal relationship with Jesus,” as though God and Jesus are just some “dad and lad” who live down the street and could pop by any time to borrow a hammer and some nails—but they don’t believe in ghosts. Religion is a lot of things to a lot of people, but I suspect it’s only “logical” to those with very little inquisitiveness in their mental makeup.  To my way of thinking, “faith” is belief in the absence of logic or proof. That’s what makes it faith. And in a religious mythology where an entity can raise the dead, or walk on water, or raise storms, the hostility to belief in ghosts is sort of mystifying.

Spec Can: How have ghost stories shaped your own history? What ghost stories did you grow up with?

Michael Rowe: One of my favourite childhood stories was Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost,” but the 70s was the age of the paperback horror anthology. There were a lot of them around, many for kids. I remember a book called Ghosts, Ghosts, Ghosts, which was a ghost story anthology featuring a story called “The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall” about a ghost that appeared every Christmas Eve and flooded an English mansion, until one year the owner found a way to freeze it. That story stayed with me for more than forty years. Later in life, of course, I read the contemporary greats—Shirley Jackson, Jonathan Aycliffe, Peter Straub, Stephen King, Douglas Clegg, Sarah Langan, to name a few. One of the most terrifying modern ghost stores, in my opinion, is Susie Moloney’s The Dwelling.

Spec Can: What ghost stories informed your novel Wild Fell?

Michael Rowe: The genesis of Wild Fell shares an important central theme with both Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, which is the literal question of the protagonist’s sanity until well into the story. It’s the difference between a story where the ghost appears and shouts boo! and a story where the question of the ghost’s very existence is in question based on the mental health of the protagonist.

Spec Can: What can horror literature ‘teach’ readers, how can it evoke new questions or ideas?

Michael Rowe: The best horror fiction is excellent, enduring literature, and shares qualities with other excellent, enduring literature. 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. When done right, it’s art. When it’s done badly, it’s as bad as any bad fiction, maybe even slightly worse.

Spec Can: Why does horror literature show such a fascination with the body? What does the body interest us so much?

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

Spec Can: As a horror author, you deal in the realm of fear in the fictional worlds you create, but what about yourself. What is your greatest fear? And how do your own fears influence your work?

Michael Rowe: What terrifies me is the loss of the people I love. Forced loss informs a great deal of my fiction—loss of innocence, loss of sanity, loss of beloved friends and relatives, loss of lovers. In the film John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, which I covered for Fangoria magazine as a journalist, Julie Carmen’s character, a horror editor, asks her travelling companion to imagine the loss of everyone and everything he loves, literally “to be the last one left.” I think that would be terrifying.

Spec Can: How does the landscape feature in your work? What is the importance of place and is there a gothic potential in the Northern landscape?

Michael Rowe: I attended a very rugged, very macho boarding school in western Canada for four years, and it had a vigorous outdoor program. We canoed a few thousand miles through the Canadian bush during the four years I was there, and I recall, even as a teenager, being struck not only by the beauty of that wilderness, but also by its savagery and gothic isolation. We have our own Transylvanias—high mountain passes, vast lakes, stormy oceans, tundra, dark forests, and isolated small towns in the middle of nowhere. I would say that the seed of Enter, Night was planted in my mind from that experience when I was a teenager. I’ve lived all over the world, but Canada is my home. I consider myself a Canadian writer, and a Canadian horror writer—this country is currently the source of my material in a very natural way. That Northern landscape is my birthright.

Spec Can: In Wild Fell you focus on the potential of small towns to create their own myths and legends. What is it about small towns that inspire legends, that feeds them?

Michel Rowe: As I suggested before, I think it has to do with the sharing of the stories, based on the lack of anonymity. If a real estate agent and his wife kill each other with knives in front of their children in a city, it becomes a news item on CNN and disappears within 24 hours. If it happens in a small town, the impact is devastating, and the story could live for generations because it didn’t happen to “someone” in the news, it happened to someone to whom one is connected by flesh, blood, marriage, extended family, or maybe just civic interaction. But because it’s all contained in a small geographic landscape inhabited by people who know each other, and how to talk to and about each other, it’s written into the fabric of history.

Spec Can: In Wild Fell you describe ghost stories as “bridges between the past and the present.” In what ways do ghost stories bring attention to the past, to things lost and things forgotten?

Michael Rowe: The historical events that caused the haunting in Wild Fell happened in the mid-19th century, but the effect of those events reverberated across more than a century, and it’s up to the protagonist to try to figure out what happened, and to solve the problem before meeting a ghastly fate. To a ghost, there is no such thing as time, by definition. The events that laid the groundwork for its appearance may have happened 200 years ago, but to the ghost, those events are as real, as current and as present as what their victim had for breakfast on the very first morning of the haunting.

I want to thank Michael Rowe for this wonderful interview and for his incredible insights. On a cold, winter night, there is nothing like an author who can bring our attention to the cold breath on the back of our necks and the cold touch of Northern horror.

If you haven’t had a chance to explore Michael Rowe’s work yet, you can explore his website at http://www.michaelrowe.com/ . If you are interested in checking out some of Mr. Rowe’s work, you can explore a few reviews of his work at  https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/shattered-glass/ and https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/postcolonial-vampirism-consuming-resources/

Abstract – Speculating Diversity: Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl In The Ring and the Use of Speculative Fiction to Disrupt Singular Interpretations of Place

A few readers have expressed some interest in my academic work researching Canadian Speculative Fiction. I have sent out versions of my abstracts for upcoming conferences to people directly, but I thought it may be worthwhile for me to post them on Speculating Canada so that people can see them.

For those of you who are not from academic backgrounds, abstracts are sort of like teasers for a paper that you are going to present at a conference. They give the reader a general idea of what the paper will be about so that they can determine if they would like to attend your conference paper or not.

The abstract below is for a paper I will be presenting at the Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy on June 7th in Toronto. You can explore the conference at http://www.yorku.ca/accsff/Introduction.html and determine if you would like to attend. I highly recommend it since it is of interest to academics as well as accessible for the general public.

Speculating Diversity: Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl In The Ring and the Use of Speculative Fiction to Disrupt Singular Interpretations of Place

By Derek Newman-Stille

In Brown Girl In The Ring, Nalo Hopkinson uses speculative fiction to suggest an alternative reading of the space of Toronto. In order to assert a form of belonging in a space that traditionally denies racialised and ethnic others, Hopkinson rewrites the Toronto landscape of the future. Denied a past in Canada because of the erasure of blackness from the Canadian landscape, she instead writes diversity into the Canadian future. Hopkinson uses the speculative fiction medium to take an iconic image of the Canadian cityscape, the CN Tower, and transform it through a Caribbean-inspired vodoun ritual into the world tree and pillar of the vodoun temple. Toronto becomes temporarily a space where the Loa (vodoun spirits) walk the landscape.

She transforms the Canadian landscape by disrupting notions of the set role that artifacts and architecture are constructed to represent and by suggesting another dialogic possibility. She reconfigures aspects of the traditional Canadian landscape into a traditional Caribbean landscape, marking the space as multivalent and subject to multiple interpretive frameworks. She illustrates that meanings are not static, but constantly shifting, being reinterpreted and reconfigured by new people with new ideologies and new systems of meaning. The CN Tower in Hopkinson’s proposed future Toronto is not a static thing, but is rather transformative, changing with the populations that shift in Canada. The landscape and its meanings are constantly shifting as our social and political landscapes shift and things that are traditionally Canadian, like the CN Tower are able to shift as Canada’s traditions and ideologies shift to include a more diverse group of Canadians with more diverse readings of the features of heritage.

Hopkinson sets her Toronto in the slight future, creating a city that has been ghettoised and cordoned off by the Canadian state. It has been designated an unsafe space and becomes a place where racialised people are trapped. Hopkinson plays with ideas of invisibility of difference by having her characters literally become invisible through Caribbean magic. She seems to be suggesting in her narrative that the only place that Canadian racial geographies can be transformed is in a science fictional reality.

Literature has the ability to create diverse spaces even when it seems as though it is impossible to transform the physical landscape. Speculative fiction can propose an alternative reading to the landscape and allow a space for diversity. For New Canadians, literature and the arts can become a space where the Canadian landscape can be transformed into an inclusive space that challenges dominant narratives of belonging and suggests an alternative reading of the world and its spaces. The meaning of objects can shift in the consciousness of diasporic people as they assert their own identities and prevent their erasure from the Canadian landscape. Hopkinson uses literature as a space for the assertion of the idea of home for people in diaspora.

Year in Review: What is Canadian Speculative Fiction – from the authors

People are often asking if there is such a thing as “Canadian identity”, something that differentiates Canada from other nations. I thought I would ask authors if theyfuture spec can thought that there was something distinctly Canadian about Canadian Speculative Fiction or how much they felt that their Canadian identity influenced their writing.

I have provided links to the full interviews below each author’s comments so you can re-read them or, if you haven’t had a chance to read them yet, to read them for the first time.

Claude Lalumiere:

“I know that [my Canadian identity] does [influence my writing], but I am not sure if I’m equipped to know how, aside from the fact that Montreal is often an important setting in my stories. On the subject of my being a Canadian writer, Paul Di Filippo, in his introduction to The Door to Lost Pages, wrote, ‘Claude Lalumière is not only a universal author but a regional writer. His native Canada, specifically the city of Montreal, is as much a player in these stories as the people, even when not specifically named. There’s some numinous element of these tales that acts as a counterbalance to the hegemony of US fantasy trilogies. We are hearing a voice literally from beyond the lands we (we American readers) know.’”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/interview-with-claude-lalumiere/

 

Steve Vernon:

“We Canadians are champion diehard storytellers. I mean take a look at our winters. Take a look at our television network. Take a look at our mosquitoes. What else have we got to do but to tell stories to each other?

“In some ways my Canadian identity limits me – in that it is harder to find my place in the international market. But my Canadian identity helps make me the writer that I am today. Remember – I have a half dozen regional books out at this moment from Nimbus Publishing – Nova Scotia’s largest publishing network. I am also close to signing a contract with another new Canadian publisher for a series of YA horror novels. My regional books have sold in the thousands – which makes me a bestselling author in Canada.”

“Nova Scotians are the true storytellers of Canada. We have an even worse selection in television, bigger mosquitos, and less opportunity for honest work. Again I ask you what else can we do but sit around and spin out yarns?”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/interview-with-steve-vernon/

 

Ian Rogers:

“Is there something that makes our stories inherently Canadian? Possibly, but it would probably take someone who isn’t from here to determine that. They say you should write what you know. I agree with that, but I would add a corollary: you should also write where you know. I know Canada, specifically Toronto and the GTA, so that’s where I typically set my stories.”

“I like to think that Canadian authors are reclaiming the “horror” word in much the same way David Cronenberg reclaimed it for Canadian film.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/interview-with-ian-rogers/

 

Nancy Kilpatrick:

“I think my work is multi-national, multi-cultural and encompasses a lot of attitudes and values that Canadians hold to like gender equality and equal pay for equal work.  For example, I’ll use fairness.  Canadians like to be fair and that leads to that stereotyping of people from this country always apologizing.  But really, it’s not so much apologizing out of guilt–as the Americans imagine–as Canadians being polite, acknowledging the other person’s existence and that they, too, have rights.  I think my writing incorporates that even in the conflicts of the story, even when a character is obnoxious.  I try to give the characters the chance to do the right thing.  If they do, they are holding to my values and the values I see around me, despite how much the current climate tends to try to erode those values.”

“I’d say that in general, Canadians write with intelligence, and that includes the darker genres.  They are educated and that becomes clear when you read the stories and novels.  Nothing here is slapped together and I suspect that’s because in the past we didn’t have a horror publishing industry so writers have had to work harder, knowing their English-language markets were in the U.S. and Britain, and the French markets in France.”

“Besides being thoughtful and intelligent, Canadians write from their experience.  Cities here are different than cities in the U.S.  For example, our citizens don’t carry guns.  Our landscape involves a lot of nature, which is important to Canadians, and that allows for a certain type of horror that can be both visceral and psychological.  Characters in the stories and novels produced in this country — and I’ve read a lot of short fiction for the four anthologies I’ve edited for Edge (two were all Canadian authors and the other two have a goodly chunk of Canucks) and the eight before those for the U.S. market — read like real people, well-constructed, with depth and lives and thought-processes which aren’t stereotyped.  Because the characters are intelligent, even if a tad whimsical, readers can respect them.  There’s nothing worse in a horror novel or story than the clichés, for example:  “Let’s split up!” Stories by Canadians strike me as having characters who are loners, not necessarily out of some twisted or evil past but more because of the way we live here, a kind of self-sufficiency that isn’t bitter.  What I mean is, you get characters who just get on with it and deal with things to the best of their ability.  And most of the time they don’t have arsenals at their disposal so they have to use brain-power while coping with the emotions evoked by the horrific situation.

“Don Hutchison, who was the editor of the wonderful anthology series Northern Frights, used to say he thought Canadians wrote with a sense of place, and that might be what I’m getting at.  But I think it’s more.  I think the place shapes the person and their world view and how they cope with everything.  What I like about what I’m reading by Canadians — besides  the fact that they like to slide between genres, which I find fun — is that they bring themselves to the fore and that Canadianism is recognizable.  In my view, we don’t need the government shoving Canadian content down our throats as if it has to be protected or die out, or shoving language down our throats, ditto the reasons.  These things already exist and can stand on their own.  It’s who we are and it shines through in the writing.  When travelling, one can usually spot travelers who are English or French or German because they are distinctive.  But you can also spot Canadians because we are distinctive in our way.  Canadians are nice, fair, friendly without being in your face, and honest.  Why Canadians don’t see and appreciate these rare qualities in themselves, I don’t know, but it’s also in the writing and in the books we’re now producing that are in the horror/dark fantasy genre and that’s one of the reasons Canadian fiction stands out.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/interview-with-nancy-kilpatrick/

 

Paul Marlowe:

“If I can depart from the standards of civil debate for a moment, I would suggest that in a country where anti-intellectualism is on the rise – where anyone interested in technology or SF is branded a geek, and where a political leader such as Stéphane Dion can be discredited amongst the public by being called “professor” by that weird gang of mediocrities, cranks, embarrassing amateurs, control-freaks, spin-doctors, and corporate sock-puppets comprising the Government – the question facing Canadian SF is: how many of us want to think?”

“It’s probably premature to begin identifying what, if anything, differentiates Canadian from international steampunk. If its popularity survives for more years, then a comparison might be worthwhile. In some ways, the real history of Canada is kind of like an alternate history of the United States – we were the part of British North America that chose to stay British. Those who didn’t want to become republican Americans came here as Loyalists.

“Once you get past the superficial bric-a-brac of steampunk that is common in books from various countries, the Canadian angle has interesting opportunities, since it places the reader in North America, and yet also in the greatest multinational empire that has ever been.

“For a writer of fiction, the fluid, evolving nature of the empire that Canada was a member of provides plenty of opportunities to imagine what it might have become, for better or worse, had its evolution proceeded differently.”

“Not being a scholar of Canadian SF, I don’t know if my forecast would be any better than those of Environment Canada since their budget cuts. It looks like SF will continue to be sidelined, culturally, for the foreseeable future, since there’s a sort of literary apartheid in Canada (as in other countries), which places SF down in the lowest class where it can be disenfranchised by excluding it from the grants, prizes, reviews,  media attention, and the rest of the grease and hot air that lets the literary machine chug along, hoisting books out of the shadows and into the public eye.

“Some countries, perhaps, do a bit better than Canada. In the US, where every stage of the Lit Cycle from writing to reviewing to award-giving isn’t subsidized by a federal or provincial ministry of official culture, there seems to be an acknowledgement that literature consists of something beyond self-conscious nation building, lyrical tales of suicide on the prairies during the Great Depression, and other dismally “realistic” but morally uplifting fare. Coincidentally, the US also has a huge SF publishing industry, attracting writers from, among other countries, Canada. And there’s probably a reason why writers like Sir Terry Pratchett appear in the UK, and not in Canada. Despite there being the same tendency to pretentious literary cliques in the UK as we have here, Pratchett was knighted (the equivalent of a Companion of the Order of Canada), his works have been performed as stage plays, as TV programmes, and on the BBC, and he won this year’s Wodehouse Prize (equivalent of the Leacock Medal, but with more pigs and champagne). Writing SF requires imagination, but I’m not sure that I have enough to imagine a Canadian fantasy writer being similarly celebrated by his or her country.

“Government assistance was certainly necessary here to kindle a national book industry and literary institutions. Unfortunately for many “genre” writers, it’s now simply supporting an industry that does little for them but denigrate and ignore their work. Canadian literature won’t be as rich and varied as it might be until the bigotry of the industry abates. I suppose the best way for that to happen might be for more people involved in Canadian SF to sit on grant & prize juries, write reviews, and speak out when they’re discriminated against, not on their literary merit, but on their choice of subject matter (or choice of friends).”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/an-interview-with-paul-marlowe-about-the-wellborn-conspiracy-series/

 

Douglas Smith:

“Well, beyond the Canadian and Toronto settings in many of my stories, now that I think of it, one of the [Canadian] themes that recurs in my work, especially the Heroka shapeshifter stories, is that of the conflict between our civilization and the natural wilderness, as our resource-based industries, which feed our cities’ growing hunger for timber, water, power, minerals, and land, consumes more and more of the natural world and habitats of our wildlife. Our country has always been defined by its vast wilderness areas, and yet the huge majority of our population lives in only a few highly urbanized pockets of that vastness.  So there’s this destructive dichotomy between us and the land we live in–we live off of the land but we don’t really live in it. But for those who do live there and for the wildlife species that live there, we’re destroying more of that wilderness every year to feed the hunger of the cities. This is the central theme in The Wolf at the End of the World and in most of my other Heroka stories. The Heroka are a race of shape shifters whose vitality as a race is tied directly to the vitality of their totem animal species, species that are dwindling as their natural habitats are destroyed by logging or mining concerns, or flooded for hydro-electric projects.

“Other Canadian themes in my work include a suspicion of both corporate and political power, a suspicion that I think is greater here in Canada than, for example, in the US.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/interview-with-douglas-smith/

 

Kelley Armstrong:

“I don’t think [Canadian supernatural fiction] is heading anywhere different than supernatural fiction in general, which is beginning a downswing. It will never go away completely, but the market will be smaller.”

“There are differences in the [Canadian versus other nations’]markets. What is a bestseller in the US will not necessarily be a bestseller in Britain. That’s the same for all geographic areas—Canada also has differences from both. The literature produced in our country reflects the differences in regional taste. I’m not sure it affects the supernatural aspects of the story as much as the general ones—the tone, the themes etc.”

“[My Canadian identity] makes it easier to do Canadian characters and settings 🙂 On the other hand, it makes it harder to do American ones, and that’s where a lot of my stories are set, for the simple fact that I can have a larger cast of supernaturals that way—it’s easier to speculate that so many supernatural beings go unnoticed if the population is much larger. Beyond that, I don’t feel it’s had much impact on my opportunities as an author or how I’m treated.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/interview-with-kelley-armstrong/

 

Chadwick Ginther:

“I quite enjoyed blending Canadian folklore with other myth cycles. It’s a sandbox I could see myself playing in for a long time. It’s easy to think that Canada doesn’t have a folklore unique to our borders. But I don’t think that’s the case. I would love to see our own folk stories and tall tales take centre stage. I would also love to see Indigenous writers bringing modern takes on their myths and folklore to the fantasy genre. Something I’ve so far only really seen from Daniel Heath Justice.”

“Because I so enjoyed mixing myth and Manitoba, I also hope that Thunder Road can inspire readers to look more closely at their homes to find those ties to the mythological past.”

“I have to be honest, I’ve never thought about my work in [the] context [of its Canadian identity]. I certainly didn’t set out to write the Great Canadian Fantasy novel and am woefully unfamiliar with the Canadian literary canon (perhaps if it included more dragons and robots…). I suppose one could say there is an element of the immigrant’s tale to Thunder Road, not a uniquely Canadian experience, but we are a nation built by immigrants. It’s one of the reasons I decided not to make Manitoba Ted [the main character from Thunder Road]’s home. Having him trying to start a new mundane life in an unfamiliar place echoed his becoming a part of the Nine Worlds, and the new fantastical life that awaited him.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/chadwick-ginther-interview/

 

Karen Dudley:

“I do believe that Canadians (myself included) have a distinctive sense of humour – part bawdy British, part self-deprecating Canadian. I’m not sure an American, for example, could have written a book like Food for the Gods. Canadians also have a reputation for being nice. I’m not sure if I’m nice or not (I like to think I am!), but as a Canadian, I can’t relate to the more extreme or paranoid political cultures. This can’t help but inform my work, and my characters tend to display a certain tolerance and trust in their world which matches my own.”

“Apart from the same way it speaks to any modern reader, I think here in Canada, we have a unique perspective on mythologies simply because so many of us come from different cultures and traditions. That’s a lot of stories, a lot of different perspectives on how we live our lives. With such an incredibly rich diversity, these myths have something to say to just about anybody regardless of which cultural tradition they come from.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/interview-with-karen-dudley-about-food-for-the-gods/

 

Liz Strange:

“I try to set a majority of my works in Canada, or at least have a Canadian character represented.  Our recognition in the world as peace keepers, progressive thinkers and top providers to our citizens is very important to me. I am proud of my nationality and our country’s history, and come from a long line of writers, historians, politicians and educators.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/interview-with-liz-strange/

 

Helen Marhsall:

“Canada has always seemed to me to be a place struggling with memory. Both of my parents emigrated to Canada just before I was born, my mom from South Africa and my dad from England via Zimbabwe. I didn’t feel a strong connection to Canadian history. I grew up reading books about European history, reading children’s literature that was grounded in mythologies that seemed very distant. Stories were things that happened in other places. As a medievalist in Canada, I find I always have to explain why I do what I do. When I go to England, they get it. Because it’s a part of their history and it matters to them. I’ve learned to live with that dissonance.”

“I think the macabre in Canadian fiction accomplishes what the macabre accomplishes in all fiction: it gives us a sense of our own mortality, of the body as something that will inevitably die. It reacquaints us with fear, and at the same time it enlivens us. Does Canada have its own unique brand of the macabre? Most definitely. Canadian literature has been traditionally considered to have a strong vein of realism to it, but the macabre, the Weird—the kind of books that ChiZine Publications has championed–are doing something to open that up. That’s good. I don’t believe in straitjacketing literature.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/interview-with-helen-marshall/

 

Nina Munteanu:

“Canada is a truly multi-cultural country and serves an excellent fractal microcosm for writing about mixed civilizations in the universe.”

“[Canadian Speculative Fiction] tends to be darker and more reflective. With fewer happy endings… LOL! Who else but a Canadian would write a science fiction romance with a tragic ending? When I wrote The Cypol (Extasy Books) I discounted the protocol of the romance genre for happy endings. The Canadian publisher accepted the novelette, which says a lot. Even though the critics liked it, romance fans hated the book. LOL! I think that Canadian SF authors bring a dark edge to the genre that slides a bit into literary fiction. Again, perhaps why Booker prize-winner in literary fiction Margaret Atwood finds herself writing speculative fiction. Her works are a good example of what Canadian SF writers do best: infuse meaningful reflection and deep allegory in speculation. I think much of Canadian speculative fiction springs from our multi-cultural and northern setting.”

“I feel a strong Canadian identity and I’m certain it imbues my main characters and the cultures I portray. Firstly, I make a point of using Canadian places as settings for my fiction (if set on Earth, that is).

“I like that Robert J. Sawyer, back in the 1980s, either set part of his novels in Canada or made at least one of his main characters a Canadian. This was in a time when it wasn’t vogue for a large American publisher to set your novel outside the USA unless it was some place globally recognized, like Paris. Sawyer wasn’t the only one; other notable Canadian SF authors who set their stories in Canada include Charles De Lint, Cory Doctorow and Guy Gavriel Kay.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/interview-with-nina-munteanu/

 

Nancy Baker:

“One reviewer called my characters “kinder, gentler vampires”, which strikes me as very Canadian.  I certainly felt that you could not have the kind of violent, predatory vampires in Toronto that seemed common in U.S. vampire fiction – though one New York writer I shared a radio panel with seemed appalled at the idea that I assumed you could leave dead bodies all over Manhattan and no one would care.  However, I don’t think there’s any particular type of Canadian vampire.  Mine might be “kinder and gentler” but those are the last words you’d use to describe the vampire in Michael Rowe’s Enter, Night. One of the interesting things about that book is that the demons that must be confronted are deeply rooted in the book’s Northern Ontario setting and in a part of Canadian history we’re conditioned to think of as something boring to study in public school.  The evocation of nature as a shaping, often inimical,  force is one of the things that is considered traditionally “Canadian” and it works brilliantly in that book.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/interview-with-nancy-baker/

 

Gemma Files:

“In her book Survival, Margaret Atwood once advanced the idea that all CanLit centres around a massive, indifferent, rejecting physical landscape and our place, or lack of one, within it. And while I initially found that idea hard to go by, mainly because I was raised in one of North America’s cities. One thing I’ve learned from teaching Canadian film history is that Canadian “culture” is mainly defined negatively, like in the old Molson’s “I am Canadian” beer commercial: We don’t eat blubber, we don’t have a President, etc.

“Nine times out of ten, particularly in English-speaking Canada, what we’re defining ourselves against is the spectre of America—if I had a dollar for every time a student of mine from somewhere else in the world asked me to admit there’s basically no difference between us and the U.S., I’d eat free for at least a week. Before that, however, it was about wanting to still be part of the British Empire even after they didn’t have any use for us, and these days it’s about how our vaunted multiculturalism mainly provides a way for us to stay in insular little groups and only interact when forced to. Which does, in the end, actually stem from geography: We’re a country the size of the former Soviet Union with a population the size of California spread out across a very disparate series of environments, most of whom still maintain they were tricked into becoming part of one country united by a railway and a radio-television network.

“When you get down to it, our national self-image is entirely imposed from the outside, a generalization cobbled together from dreams and guilt, then historically distributed through a Film Board put together by a socialist Scots expatriate who hated Hollywood and a Broadcast Corporation run from Ottawa. No wonder we’re so unable to explain what sets us apart. I always think about the title of one of Alice Munro’s early short story collections, Who Do You Think You Are?, because it perfectly encapsulates the sort of crushing self-doubt and left-over British class system resentment of the individual’s capacity for change in the face of static stagnation that defines the heart of the non-indigenous Canadian experience. And while it’s slightly different when set within an urban context, it’s not even vaguely as different as most of us would like to think.

“Which is all a very roundabout way of saying that there’s a big empty place in the Canadian psyche that takes extremely well to fantasy. Hell, even our “non-genre” literature tends to have a massive streak of surrealism and magic realism in it—think about the work of Michael Ondaatje (a poet turned prose writer, which happens a lot up here), Wayson Choy, Paul Quarrington, Derek McCormack, Michael Helm, Anne-Marie McDonald, Barbara Gowdy, Margaret Laurence, Anne Hébert, Atwood herself. But whether you’re talking about Charles de Lint and Guy Gavriel Kay or Susie Moloney, Andrew Pyper and Michael Rowe, our fantasy tends to be rooted in the uncomfortable, the self-reflective, the place where power and freedom come with a price, one that must be paid knowingly, and in blood. We accept coincidence and synchronicity, but also understand hubris, and karma. We expect doom at best, failure at worst. It’s bleak, but it’s familiar, especially to somebody who likes horror.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/interview-with-gemma-files/

 

Jerome Stueart:

“I think Canadian SF is darker and more experimental than mainstream American SF.  I think the publishing industry allows for more kinds of individual author development—we have smaller publishers with greater weight in Canada.  In the States, where every microgenre gets codified and calcified, I see a lot more of the same stuff coming out for consumers.  I see a lot more undefinable genre in Canadian SF.  A freedom because, partly, there’s not a lot of fame on the table, but also because there’s a desire to create a Canadian SF.  It looks like we’re nowhere near nailing a specific kind of SF, though, more inviting people to play.  Look at Evolve from Edge—the SF future of vampires; look at anything Chizine is doing, which is so out there!  It massacres genre-expectations.  It also gives authors so much freedom.

“Canada has the opportunity to show what the future of Canada will be through SF, and use our regional identities as a way to forge a truly unique version of Canadian SF.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/interview-with-jerome-stueart/

Interview with Nancy Kilpatrick

An Interview with Nancy Kilpatrick

Photo courtesy of Nancy Kilpatrick

By Derek Newman-Stille

This week I had the opportunity to interview an author who is often referred to as the Canadian Queen of the Damned, and the Canadian Anne Rice. She is an author who plays with multiple types of vampires and doesn’t confine herself to a singular image or myth of the vampire. Ms. Kilpatrick is the author of 18 novels including Near DeathDracul: An Eternal Love Story, and The Vampire Stories of Nancy Kilpatrick, . She is also the editor of 12 anthologies including Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead, Tesseracts Thirteen, and Danse Macabre: Close Encounters with the Reaper.

I want to thank Ms. Kilpatrick for being willing to do an interview on Speculating Canada.

Spec Can: Could you take a moment to tell us a little about yourself and introduce yourself to readers?

Nancy Kilpatrick: There’s not much to tell.  Writers are boring.  We spend an inordinate amount of time alone musing, worrying, talking to ourselves in our heads and sometimes aloud, constantly struggling with the inner angel we need to convince to allow us to destroy characters’ lives and then fighting the devil within to persuade him/her to let us save/redeem a character.  We’re the people that look as if we are insane, or always distracted, or angry, or upset, or terrified, unless we’re at a table at a convention signing books where we wear the mask of normality.  The rest of the time, if we leave home at all, you will likely find us in a bar, even if we’re non-drinkers.  Our world is secret and internal, steeped in paranoia, so there’s little to talk about and most of us are not given to small talk and idle chatter anyway.  In fact, sometimes we look pained and sound incoherent because we are so involved in the worlds we create that the reality outside our skin seems a tad confusing if not pale by comparison.  As we compulsively jot notes on small scraps of paper in public places, you will often see us looking perplexed when the inevitable request comes:  “Tell me about yourself!”  Thank God someone invented astrological signs!

Spec Can: Where do you feel Canadian horror is headed?

Nancy Kilpatrick: To a very good place.  At the moment, there are two dynamic publishers of Canadian horror.  Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy, which got into horror with Tesseracts Thirteen (2009) when David Morrell and I co-edited that anthology, and they haven’t looked back since.  ChiZine Publications publishes quite a bit of horror as well as speculative fiction.  The covers of horror books from Canada are terrific.  I know from the four anthologies I’ve edited for Edge (the others being Evolve; Evolve Two; Danse Macabre) and the one collection of my stories from Edge (Vampyric Variations) that they are very open to me recommending cover art, which I did for three of the anthologies and for the collection.  The artist for the three anthologies is John Kaiine, whose work is exquisite, and for the collection the artist is Jimmy Mallet from France, who has a dynamism all his own.  ChiZine has wonderful covers.  I believe they use the same artist(s) and this creates a consistent line of books with unusual artwork.  Both of these publishers release stand-out books and in the horror field, rife with gruesome art covers and stock images, fonts and colors – that is important.  I think the work we see on the covers and interiors and the subject matter and presentation of the contents of the books reflect extremely well on Canada as an innovative country, on the cutting edge of books in the dark fantasy/horror genre. This is as it should be and it’s been a long-time coming and we are very lucky to have these two publishing houses in Canada.

I should also mention Éditions Alire in Québéc City, which publishes the French version of my Power of the Bloodseries.

Cover image courtesy of Nancy Kilpatrick

They are very open to horror and dark fantasy, with the genre’s French spin on the covers which obviously works since the books garner attention and sell.  There are several noir authors with Alire.

Spec Can: What is different about Canadian vampire fiction from that of other nationalities?

Nancy Kilpatrick: I’d say that in general, Canadians write with intelligence, and that includes the darker genres.  They are educated and that becomes clear when you read the stories and novels.  Nothing here is slapped together and I suspect that’s because in the past we didn’t have a horror publishing industry so writers have had to work harder, knowing their English-language markets were in the U.S. and Britain, and the French markets in France.  Having Canadian publishers with a horror ‘line’ allows writers to feel they don’t need to leave home to get published.

Besides being thoughtful and intelligent, Canadians write from their experience.  Cities here are different than cities in the U.S.  For example, our citizens don’t carry guns.  Our landscape involves a lot of nature, which is important to Canadians, and that allows for a certain type of horror that can be both visceral and psychological.  Characters in the stories and novels produced in this country — and I’ve read a lot of short fiction for the four anthologies I’ve edited for Edge (two were all Canadian authors and the other two have a goodly chunk of Canucks) and the eight before those for the U.S. market — read like real people, well-constructed, with depth and lives and thought-processes which aren’t stereotyped.  Because the characters are intelligent, even if a tad whimsical, readers can respect them.  There’s nothing worse in a horror novel or story than the clichés, for example:  “Let’s split up!” Stories by Canadians strike me as having characters who are loners, not necessarily out of some twisted or evil past but more because of the way we live here, a kind of self-sufficiency that isn’t bitter.  What I mean is, you get characters who just get on with it and deal with things to the best of their ability.  And most of the time they don’t have arsenals at their disposal so they have to use brain-power while coping with the emotions evoked by the horrific situation.

Don Hutchison, who was the editor of the wonderful anthology series Northern Frights, used to say he thought Canadians wrote with a sense of place, and that might be what I’m getting at.  But I think it’s more.  I think the place shapes the person and their world view and how they cope with everything.  What I like about what I’m reading by Canadians — besides  the fact that they like to slide between genres, which I find fun — is that they bring themselves to the fore and that Canadianism is recognizable.  In my view, we don’t need the government shoving Canadian content down our throats as if it has to be protected or die out, or shoving language down our throats, ditto the reasons.  These things already exist and can stand on their own.  It’s who we are and it shines through in the writing.  When travelling, one can usually spot travelers who are English or French or German because they are distinctive.  But you can also spot Canadians because we are distinctive in our way.  Canadians are nice, fair, friendly without being in your face, and honest.  Why Canadians don’t see and appreciate these rare qualities in themselves, I don’t know, but it’s also in the writing and in the books we’re now producing that are in the horror/dark fantasy genre and that’s one of the reasons Canadian fiction stands out.

Spec Can: Where do you see the Canadian vampire going from here? How is it evolving or changing?

Nancy Kilpatrick: I think my follow-up anthology to Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead really says it all about where the vampire will go and the Canadian authors in the volume Evolve Two: Vampires Stories of the Future Undead very much move the vampire forward in time and space and also advance ideas about how society will evolve and the undead with us.

Spec Can: You are often called the Canadian Anne Rice and are compared often to her. It seems that people are often trying to put you into her shadow. How do you feel about this? Do you find that this comparison ignores your own innovations and the uniqueness of your craft? What are some things that mark your work as different from Rice’s writing?

Nancy Kilpatrick: I think it was a daily newspaper that tagged me with that moniker and so it got onto the wire service and since then many other publications have picked up on Canada’s Queen of the Damned–it’s a catchy phrase, that is.  I don’t write like Anne Rice, never have, and our concept of the vampire is quite different.  I suppose the idea of calling me that implies that my work is a) vampire and b) well known.  I’m prolific and been published quite a bit, having written and edited quite a lot of material–overkill, maybe <snark>.

There are, of course, others in Canada who have written vampire novel series, some of whom have scored major publishing houses, like Tanya Huff and Nancy Baker.  And plenty of others with a couple of vamp novels under their belts–Edo van Belkom, Stephanie Bedwell-Grime, and Karen Dales, as well as YA author-stars Alyxandra Harvey and Max Turner.  Just to name a few, and there are many others.  I suppose I snagged the title because of timing and, again, because I’ve written so much that features this archetype.

I don’t find the title offensive.  And the only times I’ve found it annoying are during interviews when, for example, we’re about to go on air and the interviewer admits to not having read my novel and then spends the interview asking me what I think about Anne Rice’s work!

I’m focused on readers first.  My readers are not run-of-the-mill people.  They are smart and like my dark take on material.  For these people, any sort of silly title attached to my name doesn’t encourage or hinder them because they already read me, so I don’t feel ignored or denigrated.  Writing is one thing.  Marketing is another animal entirely.

Spec Can: What does the vampire reveal about the modern world and our modern obsessions?

Nancy Kilpatrick: The vampire has, tragically, become part of today, with all the shallowness this age engenders.  It’s because the creature must evolve with us.  That makes sense, since the undead are a construct of our fears and fantasies.  I’d like to think that the vampire as predator of humanity still has an edge, despite having become essentially a romantic figure and a sex machine.  Not that I’m against romance and eroticism in my undead at all–anyone who has read my work can assure you of that–but there’s such a predominance of those qualities today with True Blood and the books on which it’s based, The Vampire Diaries, Twilight, and so on.  We`ve altered the vampire to fit our interests, it seems.

Ours is a society (in North America) obsessed with being young at all costs, which ultimately translates that we are fearful of losing power and control, of dying, and of no longer being valued.  YA (Young Adult) vampire fiction (in fact, YA in general) has boomed and not just with teenagers.  Many older women read the Twilight books and see the films (and I won’t even go into the popularity of mommy-porn Fifty Shades of Grey, which began as Twilight fan fic!).  The vampire has had to adapt to our desire to stay youthful and vital and since the nosferatu tends to live eternally and look young and attractive and sexy, those traits fit right in with what many people want.  This is why you’re not seeing or reading much about the old resuscitated corpse anymore, although that’s changing a bit and we’re getting a little more of the corporeally corrupted, hideous and fetid vampire you have no desire to date.  The vampire is cursed and its main curse is to conform to the age in which it’s presented in fiction, film, television, art, etc.

Spec Can: Your work is both erotic and deals with vampiric topics, what brings the vampire specifically and the monster more generally together with the erotic?

Nancy Kilpatrick: The vampire in fiction has always been compelling and in early English lit has always been erotic.  In Thomas Preskett Prest’s (or Malcolm Rymer’s, depending on your research source), Varney the Vampire, the vampire is a creature tormented who ends up despite his best intentions in the bedroom of Victorian women nightly.  Dracula has a taste for the ladies, so to speak.  Carmilla is a rich woman fond of younger women and she makes them swoon.  And the earliest story in English, “The Vampire” by John Polidori (Lord Byron’s physician who took a scrap of a vampire story Byron wrote and expanded it) features a cruel and callous vampire who seduces and kills the sister of his ‘friend’, so this offers both eroticism and viciousness.

The vampire has always been seductive.  This is a creature that can mesmerize us, manipulate us, and knows we like sex and uses that to control us.  Vampires used to want just one thing:  our blood.  Now they want sex too and because they are handsome or beautiful, youthful, persuasive, hypnotic almost, we are happy to succumb to their charms, it seems, since supernatural romances featuring the undead are very popular.

Spec Can: What vampire myths and legends to you draw upon in your work?

Nancy Kilpatrick: There are plenty of myths and legends out there and I’ve collected vampire literature and mythology for a few decades now, so I’m fairly aware of from whence this creature derives.  Still, and although I’ve written a variety of types of vampires, most of mine are blood drinkers.  For me, there is something both intimate and intimidating about a physical attack that I don’t associate with a mental or emotional attack.  I guess that’s because I can protect myself from the last two by simply vacating the premises, but I can`t just up and leave in the face of a physical onslaught.  A mental attack screws you up for a while, and an emotional attack can leave you overloaded with feelings and in tatters.  But you can survive these.  A physical attack is the more dangerous.  It leaves you weak but also vulnerable and the great danger is that it can lead to death.

There’s a site online that specializes in vampire mythologies:  shroudeater.com  run by a friend of mine, a serious student of these myths.  I often check that site for myths and news stories that reflect unusual aspects of the undead.

Spec Can: Why do you think we, as a society, have move toward an interest in a more sympathetic monster image rather than the horrifying monster of the past?

Nancy Kilpatrick: We’ve become politically correct, which isn’t always repression.  Sometimes it entails a true acceptance of ‘other’, the ‘other’ being someone or something that is not us and previously was suspect and/or frightening.  Because we no longer see strangers as monstrous, we no longer see monsters as strangers.

Spec Can: What inspires you to write?

Nancy Kilpatrick: Anything can inspire me.  Most of the time I don’t know what that is.  I can say that seeing a person might inspire me, or remembering something, experiencing something in the here and now.  All of that is true, but not the whole story.  I have emotional urges to sit at the computer and crank out fiction for no discernible reason.  Of course, if I’m asked to write a story for an anthology, I think along the lines of the anthology’s subject.  But otherwise, it’s a kind of psychic free-for-all state that eventually settles down a bit and my intuition takes over and manages (remarkably) to focus on something that excites me mentally and emotionally enough to do all the work involved to take this inspiring nugget and create from it a story or novel.

Spec Can: Do you find that readers try to see you as similar to your characters? Do fans typecast you before meeting you?

Nancy Kilpatrick: Years ago, Don Bassingthwaithe and I co-wrote As One Dead, in the White Wolf Vampire the Masquerade world.  That world breaks down characters by generation, by clan and by sect and then the personality of the individual character under those three umbrellas of identity.  That was about the only time anyone implied I might be like my character, or wanted to know which gen/clan/sect I was part of.

I think readers always suspect that a character is from the writer’s personality or experience, and I suppose to some extent that’s true.  But  I’ve written so many different types of vampires–and other characters–that it would be hard to peg me as any of them.  At the same time, I think there must be a kernel in me that leads to each character I write, although sometimes even I can’t identify the source.

Spec Can: What is dark or vampiric about our urban environments? Why are cities attracting so much attention by horror, dark fantasy, and other authors of the macabre?

Nancy Kilpatrick: I think it’s because cities have gotten so big so quickly.  Populations have doubled in two decades.  This throws people who remember how it was into chaos.  Suddenly there are too many people, too many cars, too much noise.  Jobs are harder to get, transportation is slower, people from elsewhere have different ways that conflict with the common standards of courtesy and etiquette.  This makes for tension for everyone and that means cities are balls of tension.  Tension breeds paranoia and suspicion, dark fears.  People become less trusting, more judgmental, and definitely defensive.

Environments like this are breeding grounds for horror stories.  Here is where we are alone and anonymous in a potentially hostile environment.  Our neighbors don’t know us, and don’t seem to care.  We could be the victim or the perpetrator of a crime, it’s all the same. Trust is a huge issue and that sometimes leads to trusting the wrong person because everyone is a stranger.  A perfect environment for a vampire to take advantage of an unsuspecting human who is needy and afraid.

Spec Can:  What do vampire stories say about ageing and social ideas about getting older (or not)?

Nancy Kilpatrick: Vampires give us hope that we can live forever.  Science gives that same hope that, one day, this will be so: we will be disease free, and maladies of the flesh can be cured, allowing us to continue into infinity.  But that’s Some Day.  The vampire represents the fantasy that it can happen now, to us, in our lifetimes.  The popularity of the vampire assures us that many would exchange a lot for this prolonged existence, and that speaks directly to our fear of demise and our lack of religious or philosophical belief in an afterlife or another life.  A lot of people these days take the ‘this is it’ stance about existence, one life, get it while you can and while you’re young and attractive enough to enjoy it.  But the vampire promises eternal youth, beauty, and no nasty death awaiting us.  It’s a fantasy most people have toyed with, if not in the form of the undead in some other form.  A chance to get it right.  A chance to have it all.  And look and feel good while doing it.

Spec Can: What is distinctly Canadian about your work? What specifically Canadian ideas or themes do you bring into it?

Nancy Kilpatrick: I think my work is multi-national, multi-cultural and encompasses a lot of attitudes and values that Canadians hold to like gender equality and equal pay for equal work.  For example, I’ll use fairness.  Canadians like to be fair and that leads to that stereotyping of people from this country always apologizing.  But really, it’s not so much apologizing out of guilt–as the Americans imagine–as Canadians being polite, acknowledging the other person’s existence and that they, too, have rights.  I think my writing incorporates that even in the conflicts of the story, even when a character is obnoxious.  I try to give the characters the chance to do the right thing.  If they do, they are holding to my values and the values I see around me, despite how much the current climate tends to try to erode those values.  If my characters fail to hold to these values, then I see them as from elsewhere.  (laughs).

With the anthologies I edit, I don’t go looking for a balance of half male, half female contributors and yet the anthologies seem to be that.  I think it’s mainly because I like a lot of types of writing and am eclectic.  I’m looking for a good story, clever, intelligent, with some depth, and well written.  Those are general words and all anthologists use them, so really they have little meaning.  I know what works and trust my judgement about short fiction.  And I also have a refined sense of how to make a good story better.  All this culminates in me liking a story and not caring if it’s by a male or a female–as long as the story is good.

Spec Can:  Why is the vampire such a versatile monster? Why is it so able to adapt to new cultural representations?

Nancy Kilpatrick: The vampire is one of the few supernaturals that is human.  They look and act like us; they can pass.  Consequently, a writer has a lot of room to use them to reflect humanity.  You can’t do that easily with zombies because they are so one-dimensional, brainless, if you will.  With zombies it’s the human characters that have to be the focus and how they react.  Werewolves are hard on modern readers, since we have few wolves outside zoos, none larger than life, and in humans, the bad behavior of the feral is not only frowned upon but can lead to incarceration.  Most of the other preternaturals are not human, like trolls.  Ghosts were human, so it should be possible to work them into interesting stories but for the fact that they are so intangible and we can’t really understand where they are or what they’re doing there and since they have no physical body they have few needs–usually it’s to scare us, or to reconnect–which isn’t likely.  Vampires have it all.  They wear makeup to disguise their pallor, although paleness is back in fashion so they don’t need much Mac foundation.  They can be night people–plenty of shift-workers and ravers are.  If they are still allergic to garlic–rare now–that’s easy–hold the garlic!  Most are not repelled by crosses, at least since the goth sub-culture grew so strong in the 1990s.  Ditto not seeing their reflection–there are so many mirrors around these days that such a limitation would be impossible to work with creatively.  Chelsea Quinn Yarbro took care of the sleeping on native soil thing in Hotel Transylvania (1976)–her character St. Germain lines his boots with his native soil so he can walk around in daylight and fall asleep anywhere.

The bottom line is, if they weren’t predators preying on us, we wouldn’t know them as anything but human.  And that makes them, like us, adaptable.  But they are predators and they are dangerous.

Spec Can: A lot of vampires are portrayed as aristocratic and there is increasing interest in the zombie as the “poor man/woman’s undead”. How can the changing vampire speak to diverse classes?

Nancy Kilpatrick: Early vampires in English lit were aristocrats because the writers writing those novels and stories–Stoker; LaFanu; Prest/Rymer; Polidori–were either of that class, trying to say something about that class, or aspiring to be that class in a time when there were two classes in the UK, rich and poor, with a just-emerging middle-class.

Clive Barker nailed zombies in his introduction to Skipp and Spector’s Book of the Dead (#1 I think) when he said they are the masses you’d love to love who come to your house with their faces falling off.  Zombies can be sympathetic–but not for long.  As Clive went on to say: ‘and you’re trying to be as humane as you possibly can, but they are, after all, eating the cat.’

Zombies are mobs.  Hoards.  Overwhelming, overrunning, mindless.  Hard to love, though we might see the humanity in one occasionally.  This has always been our fears:  of foreigners–you don’t know what they’re like so you don’t know what they’ll do, hence they are not predictable; of the revolting ‘peasants’ storming the castle–they get an idea into their collective heads and run with it and reason dies as quick a death as does anyone in their path.  It’s clear why zombies have become the everyman/woman, the masses, and why they are frightening.  Individuality is lost but for obsession.

Because vampires look and can act like us, and can reason and charm, we tend to use them as fantasy fodder.  Part of the fantasy is that they are sexy, alluring, mesmerizing.  Another part requires them to be rich.  After all, they live eternally and like most people who hope to figure out the stock market one day and make a killing, vampires should have amassed some wealth by the time they have survived a lifetime or more.  Besides, people respect wealth tremendously while hating the wealthy.

Spec Can:  Could you tell us a bit about current projects you are working on?

Nancy Kilpatrick: For the last year I’ve been working on seven novels at once.  Yes, that sounds insane.  And?…

Spec Can:  Is there anything further you would like to note for our readers?

In terms of The Pitch, I do have the collection Vampyric Variations on the shelves, subject matter obvious.  And also a new anthology I’ve edited which is not vampire, but it’s close:  Danse Macabre: Close Encounters With the Reaper–not one vampire, per se, in this book!

If you buy these books, the publisher can go on to publish more books.  That’s always the bottom line so put your good intentions into practise–both are available in print and ebook form.

It is great to know that being a horror writer is as wild and fun as I imagined it to be. I want to thank Nancy Kilpatrick for taking the time to do this interview and for sharing insights with us about her own writing craft and the nature of the monster as it is evolving in Canadian society. You can explore more about Ms. Kilpatrick at http://www.sff.net/people/nancyk/

This has been an incredible opportunity to gain insights into the vampire and into the Canadian vampire particularly (and the society that created this monstrous reflection of ourselves).