Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 24: An Interview with Matt Moore

This is an interview that has waited far too long. Matt Moore and I have talked often about everything from villains to space to horror… and our conversations were always insightful! We had even organized a panel together… but for some reason, we kept missing chances to interview. So, I was incredibly lucky to have a chance to talk to Matt at Can Con in Ottawa, a brilliant Speculative Fiction Convention.

Matt Moore is an Ottawa-based author of Speculative Fiction whose work tends toward the horror and dark fiction genres, playing at the edge where science fiction meets the darkness. Matt has published short fiction in venues such as Postscripts to Darkness, Jamais Vu, Leading Edge, AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, OnSpec, and in collections like Torn Realities, Blood Rites, Tesseracts 14, and Fear the Abyss. His story “Touch the Sky, They Say” was an Aurora Award nominee and his first collection “Touch the Sky, Embrace the Dark” is now available to explore.

In our interview, we talk about a variety of topics from identity to horror to science fiction to disability (which those of you who follow my website know is a topic that I love to talk about) to gender to author readings to… well, you will just have to listen and find out! So, click below and hear our full interview.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

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

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Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 17: An Interview with Jerome Stueart

At Fan Expo Canada this year, I had the opportunity to interview Yukon author Jerome Stueart who visited the area as part of his cross-Canada tour. In our interview, Jerome and I discuss topics varying from LGBTQ2 characters, the power of the coming out story, religion in SF, crossing genre boundaries, critical animal studies, and anthropology.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

 

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

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

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 14: An Interview with Suzanne Church

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, Waterloo author Suzanne Church swings by the studio as part of her book tour for her new collection Elements: A Collection of Speculative Fiction (Edge, 2014). Suzanne Church’s work stretches across genre boundaries between Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. She has published in several of the Tesseracts anthologies, in collections like When the Hero Comes Home 2, Urban Green Man, and Dance Macabre. She has also published in speculative magazines like Clarksworld, OnSpec, and Doorways Magazine. Suzanne is an Aurora Award winning author and her short story “Living Bargains” is currently up for this year’s Aurora Award.

Suzanne Church and I talk about fiction’s role in bringing attention to domestic violence, pushing genre boundaries, the stretches of human relationships, ideas of displacement and home, and the power of short fiction as a medium. Prepare to hear about aliens, fuzzy green monsters, sentient coffee cups, androids, ghosts… and so many other otherworldly beings that tell us more about what it is to be human. Take a listen and I hope you enjoy our chat.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

 

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

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

 

Interview with Sean Moreland

An interview with Sean Moreland by Derek Newman-Stille

Sean Moreland and I have been engaging in a discussion about horror for years, both academically and as fans of the genre and I am pleased that I have been able to share some of that conversation here with Speculating Canada’s readers. I am a fan of Dr. Moreland’s scholarship as well as his editorial work that has highlighted horror texts that may not otherwise have been published. He and others working with Postscripts to Darkness have been able to highlight literary horror and weird fiction and focus on good, powerful works while resisting some of the pressures of the publishing industry to conform to expectations of the genre that have been shaped by the past and by audience expectations from past works of horror. Their genre-bending work has engaged my attention, and Sean Moreland’s own willingness to break barriers between the role of author, editor, and academic have been an inspiration. I hope that you enjoy this conversation between us as much as I have.

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

Sean Moreland:  I’m a sometime-writer of short fiction and poetry, much of it in a grotesque or fantastic vein, a University English professor who teaches sessionally at the University of Ottawa, and a scholar whose major research interests include horror and weird fiction and film. I’m also the founder and a fiction editor of Postscripts to Darkness, a twice-yearly serial anthology of strange fiction and art.

Spec Can: You teach horror courses at Ottawa University, what first got you interested in horror? What were some of the first horror books you read and horror movies you watched?

Cover Photo of Postscripts to Darkness Courtesy of the Editors.

Cover Photo of Postscripts to Darkness Courtesy of the Editors.

Sean Moreland: I’ve had a fascination with horror and weird fiction since I was a small child. When I was five years old, my parents bought me the Piccolo Explorer book of Demons and Demonology (a book whose vivid illustrations still feverishly populate my brain) and shortly after that my maternal grandmother, a one-time schoolteacher who was also instrumental in teaching me to read at about three years of age, bought me a collection of abridged, illustrated literary classics for kids, which is where I first discovered some of Poe’s tales, as well as H.G. Wells War of the Worlds and Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. That seemed to seal the fate of my literary tastes.

It was the literature that first stirred my love of the weird and horrific, but films followed close behind. I was staying up late on weekends to watch horror classics on late-night TV shortly later. My father was apparently convinced at one point that if he agreed to stay up with me and watch, I’d fall asleep before him and he could tuck me in and switch on a late-night sports show or something, and the glamour of being able to stay up late would be eliminated for me. This never worked. I’d be bright-eyed and absorbing a Universal classic or a Godzilla film or something, and he’d be snoring away soundly on the couch by ten.

My tastes were forcefully accelerated by my cousin Tanya, a year my junior, who was, I suppose, my first “horror-buddy.” I remember her regaling me with plot summaries of horror movies she’d watched, and having nightmares about, for example, Friday the 13thand A Nightmare on Elm Street before ever seeing them. I lived in mortal terror of the family dog, a beagle named Candy, for a couple of months after Tanya described the plot of Cujo to me in gruesome detail.

Ironically, when Tanya’s taunts of “chicken” helped me overcome my initial trepidation, I quickly found the films themselves much less frightening than my own imaginings of them, and a life-long horror film habit was off to a sprinting start. It’s always struck me as interesting that childhood gender dynamics featured in my early introduction to horror films, as I was conscious that if Tanya, who was both a girl and nearly a year younger (and bear in mind I grew up in a small-town Ontario context where male child-socialization revolved heavily around sports and such, and where phrases like “you throw like a girl,” or “don’t be a sissy” were in chronic superabundance on the schoolyard) could watch these taboo “grown-up” movies and take them in stride, I should be able to, as well.

Spec Can: What do you enjoy most about teaching horror?

Sean Moreland: Being passionate and enthusiastic about your subject always makes teaching less of a job and more of a pleasure, and that is readily conveyed to the students, I think.

Spec Can: What are some of your favourite moments when teaching horror?

Sean Moreland: Many of the students who already have an interest in, or even a passion for, the genre, but who have never had the opportunity to really engage critically with the pleasures and challenges it offers really rise to the occasion to talk and write about it in the classroom, so that’s always a pleasure. I really enjoy discussing the personal and social dimensions of our reception of horror texts – inviting the students to share their own reception of these texts always generates great in-class discussion, and I’m very curious about both the continuities and differences in terms of how horror texts are differently socialized over the decades. Relatedly, I also love talking about the idiomatic vocabulary that we tend to use in describing our reactions to horror texts (“scary as fuck,” “scared the shit out of me,” and so on) and what it tells us about the embodied nature of our response and the feelings that horror texts evoke, which leads into a wide variety of sociological, psychological and philosophical discussions.

Spec Can: What can students learn by engaging with horror? What can horror do to broaden their horizons?

Sean Moreland: What can’t horror do, if considered closely?  Whether we’re approaching it from a broadly generic viewpoint, or from a psychological response perspective, or looking at how cultural anxieties are shaped and manipulated by horror texts, for centuries horror fictions have been intricately interwoven with our individual and cultural development, and have been actively attempting to tap into our innermost fears and desires. Horror, broadly understood, can be a powerful lens focused on nearly every aspect of our lives.

Spec Can: Horror often heavily involves the body. What can horror say about the body?pstd2cover

Sean Moreland: By its affective nature, horror tends to be closely tied to anxieties about the body, so it has always had a great deal to offer in terms of approaches to studying perceptions of the body and their relation to identity. Horror is, in a way, the proving ground for any conceivable form of alienation from the body, any conceivable kind of dysmorphia. But horror texts also tend to aggressively interrogate the body as a locus of desire, which is one reason there has been so much Freudian and Lacanian ink spilled in discussing horror texts, not to mention how generative horror texts have proven to be for Foucauldian and Deleuzian studies.

Spec Can: In addition to teaching horror, you also write horror fiction. What are some of the things that you hope your horror fiction will do for your audience?

Sean Moreland: Publishing fiction is a new thing for me – I come to it late in life. I’ve published a few stories lately, and hope to gradually publish more, but I don’t have any kind of systematic goal with my fiction, really – each story is very much its own thing. I am an informal apprentice of the writers I read and admire, and an occasional experimenter with ideas and techniques I largely pillage from writers I study and teach.

For example, “The Rosy Boa,” which I was pleased to learn you found to be an effective piece, is basically a re-writing of a classic camp-fire jump-scare story I remember from my childhood, “The Fur Collar,” through the lens of a Poesque unreliable narrative structure and a semi-autobiographical preoccupation with gender dysphoria.

The version I was familiar with came from J. B. Stamper’s book of scary stories for kids, Tales for the Midnight Hour, which I read innumerable times when I was five or six, and which I’ve just bought a copy of for my stepdaughter. My version is a very different kind of “camp” fire story (and one I won’t be reading to her any time soon!)

I can say that each story slowly evolves towards its own practically inarticulable end, an end which I usually think I’ve arrived at prematurely, and then months later, and often after the story has been incised by the keen eyes of the writing workshop I participate in with some story-minded friends, I realize it has further yet to go.

I also have a powerful, unrealistic, irrational, and likely pretentious hatred for the market-end of writing fiction, and generally have little interest in tailoring the things that I write for particular markets, or audiences. Largely for this reason, I’ve never hoped, planned, or tried to make a living as a professional writer, and am often puzzled and amazed by those who have tried, and infinitely more so, those who succeed in doing so.

I write fiction, like poetry, occasionally, shoehorning it in between teaching, working on academic writing projects, and being a family-guy. Of course, like every other wanker out there with literary aspirations, I also often muse aloud about putting more time aside to focus on fiction (this summer, Derek, this summer I swear!) but life devours time nearly as fast as time devours life.

I’m heartened, and intimidated, by the fact that one of my favourite living writers, the incomparable Glen Hirshberg, somehow manages to balance life as a devoted father, full-time high-school teacher, community-pillar, and prolific and masterful professional fictionist, but I personally suspect he’s sold his soul to dark powers in order to strike that balance.

Spec Can: You also co-edit the Postscripts to Darkness series of Canadian horror anthologies. What are some of the things that you are hoping to do with the series?

Sean Moreland: I hope to see our audience, which is currently very small, gradually expand, to which end we are currently re-thinking our production model. Local offset print runs, which we’ve been doing up to Volume 4, really painfully restrict our ability to get the book into the hands of people outside of Ottawa. What is key for me, and for the other editors, though, is being able to preserve our own unique editorial vision for the series, creating a space for unsettling, and often trans-genred, works of dark literary fiction.

Spec Can: What got you interested in doing microfiction for the first two volumes of Postscripts?

Cover for Postscripts to Darkness 3 courtesy of the editors

Cover for Postscripts to Darkness 3 courtesy of the editors

Sean Moreland: PstD got its start following a microfiction competition I organized with Dominik Parisien as a way of generating some local involvement for the Rolling Darkness Revue’s Canadian tour back in 2010. The stories had to be 750 words, max, and were judged by Glen Hirshberg and Peter Atkins of the RDR, who picked three winners. Dom and I were so impressed by not only the winning fictions, but also many of the other submissions, that we decided we should turn them into a book. The first issue was thus conceived as a one-off thing, but it subsequently snowballed in terms of interest (my own and that of my subsequent collaborators in the project, Aalya Ahmad, Dan Lalonde, Ranylt Richildis, James Moran, and of course, Dom, but also that of a small, but growing, body of readers) and so the series was born, and so it continues.

Spec Can: Why was it important to you that Postscripts to Darkness include illustrations and interviews as well as fiction? What does this add to the volume?

Sean Moreland: I loved the idea of including a few illustrations to highlight the fictions, and in the first volume, the illustrations were based on the three winning stories in the contest I mentioned. It was Aalya who persuaded me that having an illustration commissioned for each story in each issue was a great model, and she was, of course, quite right. I’ve always loved the possibilities of ekphrastic art, and having a gifted visual artist bring their own unique conception to an original work of fiction can be a potent combination. The interviews were initially, I think, Dom’s idea – he conducted our first, with Amal el-Mohtar. They have become a central part of the project because they give us an opportunity to connect with writers we admire, to draw the attention of our readers to the great things they’re creating, and to help disseminate their work and thought in some small way. We’re expanding the interview component of the project now, with an eye to including more interviews on the website, and printing excerpts from these in the books themselves. This will free us up to have longer, fuller interviews, without over-stuffing the book itself and squeezing out the fictions. Our readers will see this new format playing out for the first time in PstD 5, which we plan to launch in May or June.

I want to thank Dr. Moreland for his critical exploration of the power of horror, and for reminding us, as readers, that we have power to question and look at the deeper cultural issues evoked by and explored through horror.

You can explore Postscripts to Darkness further at http://pstdarkness.com/

Upcoming interview with Sean Moreland on Wednesday February 12th

Author of speculative fiction and poetry, university English professor, editor… Sean Moreland has a diverse relationship to speculative fiction. Dr. Moreland and I met at CanCon in Ottawa, but have since been able to meet at a variety of academic conferences and discuss the topic of Canadian Spec Fic from a variety of different perspectives. On Wednesday February 12, I hope to share some of Dr. Moreland’s insights about teaching horror as a horror and weird fiction author, gender dynamics in horror, the importance of a horror-buddy, changes in horror over the decades, horror’s power to provide insights into cultural anxieties and desires, horror’s interaction with the body, and issues of the market shaping the kind of horror that often sees light.

Most of these topics are part of an ongoing conversation that Dr. Moreland and I have been having about horror for years and I am very excited to be able to share that conversation with you, Speculating Canada’s readers.

Cover for Postscripts to Darkness 3 courtesy of the editors

Cover for Postscripts to Darkness 3 courtesy of the editors

Here are a few teasers from our upcoming interview:

Sean Moreland: “What can’t horror do, if considered closely?”

Sean Moreland: “I quickly found the films themselves much less frightening than my own imaginings of them, and a life-long horror film habit was off to a sprinting start.”

Sean Moreland: “I really enjoy discussing the personal and social dimensions of our reception of horror texts – inviting the students to share their own reception of these texts always generates great in-class discussion, and I’m very curious about both the continuities and differences in terms of how horror texts are differently socialized over the decades.”

Sean Moreland: “By its affective nature, horror tends to be closely tied to anxieties about the body, so it has always had a great deal to offer in terms of approaches to studying perceptions of the body and their relation to identity.”

Sean Moreland: “Horror, broadly understood, can be a powerful lens focused on nearly every aspect of our lives.”

Sean Moreland: “I also have a powerful, unrealistic, irrational, and likely pretentious hatred for the market-end of writing fiction, and generally have little interest in tailoring the things that I write for particular markets, or audiences.”

Sean Moreland: “What is key for me, and for the other editors, though, is being able to preserve our own unique editorial vision for the series, creating a space for unsettling, and often trans-genred, works of dark literary fiction.”

Dr. Moreland edits Postscripts to Darkness, a twice-yearly anthology that features weird fiction and art. It is a volume that I have been lucky enough to contribute some of my art to. You can explore Postscripts to Darkness yourself at http://pstdarkness.com/ .

pstd2cover

 

Interview with Ada Hoffmann

An interview with Ada Hoffmann
by Derek Newman-Stille

Ada Hoffman describes herself as a queer-oriented, autistic author of Canadian Speculative Fiction. She has an interest in portrayals of autism in SF, and does critical readings of these portrayals on her website http://ada-hoffmann.com/autistic-book-party/ .

I am very excited that Ada is willing to do an interview since I am interested in both portrayals of queerness and disability in Canadian SF, and Ada is a wonderful author.

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

Ada Hoffmann: Oh no, the dreaded open-ended question! Well, I’m twenty-six years old, I’m studying for my PhD in computer science, and I live in Ontario. I made my first four professional fiction sales in 2013, though I’ve been writing for pay since 2010 and writing in general since I was five. I love cats, roleplaying games, and music. Most other facts about me are either incredibly boring or classified.

Spec Can: What first inspired your passion for Speculative Fiction?

Ada Hoffmann: I grew up around speculative fiction. My parents were both huge nerds who taught computer science for a living, and the house was full of bookshelves, many of which were solely devoted to science fiction and fantasy. As a child I started with the usual fairy tale picture books and graduated to Narnia, Tolkein, Star Wars, Susan Cooper, Heinlein juveniles, and stealing my dad’s issues of Analog every month (which, in retrospect, were not always appropriate for children). I got into fantasy roleplaying games pretty early in life, too, mostly because my dad had giant boxes of them under his desk and I was curious. (Also, there were So Many Interesting Tables to roll dice on! You can’t go wrong with dice. I got fascinated by using the random tables long before I started to actually play.) When I hit my teens, it was like, “yay, you’re old enough for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Babylon 5 now!” It was how we entertained ourselves and bonded as a family. I hear stories of people who “discovered” speculative fiction and had to hide it from their parents, or got shamed for not reading “real” literature, and I’m just baffled. It was never anything like that for me.

Spec Can: What, if anything, is different about Canadian speculative fiction?

Ada Hoffmann: I don’t think we can really pin down Canada that way. It’s a big place. Lots of room for contradictions. I’ve heard that the Canadian SF community is different from the American one, but I’m too much of a social hermit to really comment on that one way or the other.

Spec Can: You have a strong interest in representations of autism in speculative fiction. What first got you interested in representations of autism in SF?

Ada Hoffmann: Just seeing the same kind of fail repeated multiple times. I didn’t set out to be The Autism Lady, but when I found autism stuff that frustrated me, I blogged about it, because I was frustrated. Then I realized no one else was blogging about it this way. It was a side note in social justice discussions, if it was mentioned at all. Which makes sense – there are fewer of us than there are of, say, women, or POC, plus it’s not always safe to be “out”, so the discussion space is going to be smaller – but it is frustrating. So I kept going. Eventually I had so much to blog about that it had to be organized, and I started doing an official book review feature, etc. I’m not sure if this is an abiding interest, or if I’m just going to keep going until I run out of new things to say and then stop.

Spec Can: What was the first SF work that you encountered that dealt with the topic of autism or featured an autistic character? What was the portrayal like?

Ada Hoffmann: Oh, gee, I can’t even remember. Maybe Robert Charles Wilson’s Blind Lake, which is actually pretty good. It’s hard to say because I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate these problems until a few years ago, when I started publishing short fiction and a social justice-minded editor took me under their wing. I didn’t connect with the autistic self-advocacy community until even more recently, and to some extent I still feel like an outsider to that community. I’m still learning a lot.

The first portrayal that really frustrated me in a way I could articulate was Nancy Fulda’s short story “Movement”, which was nominated for a Nebula Award. And it was so bad on multiple levels. I think what frustrates me most is when an NT (neurotypical) writer produces something which is nothing like autism, or which is insulting, but NTs who don’t know any better think it is a good portrayal and therefore it gets lots of attention and praise – even in the face of actual autistic people trying to point out why there are problems.

Spec Can: What are some common errors or misconceptions that authors make when portraying characters with autism?

Ada Hoffmann: Not doing the research. (You have to look at what’s being said by autistic people, not just our doctors and caregivers; otherwise you’ll miss a lot.) Not giving an autistic character feelings and concerns of their own, or only giving them feelings when it relates to a special interest, cure decision, or other stereotype. Over-focusing on the odd behaviors that are most visible to neurotypical people and under-focusing on cognitive and sensory differences, especially when trying to write from the autistic character’s point of view. Trying to draw some sort of moral conclusion from autism, like by using a character with autistic traits to teach NT characters about the dangers of social withdrawal, and not noticing that this implicitly demonizes the autistic person. Forgetting that most of us work very hard to look “normal”, and that many of us succeed – but at a cost.

Spec Can: What can speculative fiction do to shift the way readers think about the world around them? How can SF encourage readers to question their assumptions?

Ada Hoffmann: I am struggling to come up with a good answer for this question. It seems to me that there are as many answers as there are potential stories. Also, not every shift in thinking or questioned assumption works the same way, nor is every shift in thinking equally valuable, though to some extent the ability to question one’s thinking is always valuable.

It also isn’t as simple as setting out to shift assumptions and thought patterns with a single story. We are made of the stories we tell about ourselves and the world, and the commonalities between stories form larger structures. Tropes, worldviews, cultures, archetypes. A single story might explicitly question or subvert an aspect of a worldview but with enough of these questions and subversions, a new substructure with its own rules and tropes forms. It’s not possible to do away with the structure as a whole, because this would take us to a place with no comprehensible narratives and no thought. We can’t dispense with all assumptions, but we need to replace some of our current ones with broader assumptions which help us understand and care for each other.

Spec Can: What do you hope readers will take away from reading your SF?

Ada Hoffmann: Oh, that depends on the story. It would be super boring if I was trying to make the same point with all of them! My goals are a little bit different every time.

Spec Can: You tend to write a lot of short stories. What are some benefits of the short story medium?

Ada Hoffmann: It’s short! Which makes it a wonderful place to learn and experiment. It’s short to write, which means you can try all sorts of risky things without such a steep penalty for failure. You can switch settings, genres, characters, themes, or anything else about your writing whenever you want to. And it’s short to read, which means it’s easy to get feedback and figure out where your weaknesses lie. Maybe I’m just a really impatient person, though?

There are benefits to longer forms too. With something like a novel (or a long-running RPG campaign), it’s easier for me to really get into the characters’ heads and fall in love with them all. But it’s a different process and a different way of constructing a plot, and I’m still figuring out how to make that work for me.

Spec Can: On your website, you mention that you are both queer and autistic. As a queer, autistic author, what can you suggest to encourage other queer authors or authors with disabilities to write further?

Ada Hoffmann: I’m not sure if this is specific to queerness or disability, but one of the most important things is to find beta readers who “get it”. Not just people who are good at dissecting a story (though these are valuable, and rarer than you would think). But people who understand the way your individual creative mind works, who are excited to see the things that you are excited to create, and who understand your goals well enough to help you figure out what’s gone wrong when you’re stuck. Everybody who’s good at something gets impostor syndrome, but marginalized people get it worse. To survive as a writer, you need people who will help you bounce back from the bad times, people who will keep believing in you and your work even when you don’t, and who are smart enough about it that you’ll take their opinion seriously. Doesn’t matter if they are fellow writers, fans, family – just find those people and cling to them, because their support makes you strong.

My other advice would be learn to trust your own voice. If your own underrepresentation pisses you off, great! It’s worthwhile to talk about that, and to talk about what other writers are doing wrong. But don’t stop there. You are a writer yourself (if you aren’t a writer, this advice is not for you). You have the power to make books of your own, to your own specifications, so do it.

(I can say this as forcefully as I do only because it is a lesson I have had to teach myself, time and time again.)

But also remember that you are more than the sum of your identity labels. Being queer and a writer doesn’t mean you have to write a specific amount of queer fiction to someone else’s specifications (or queer fiction at all). Likewise with disability. There’s a lot to do in these fields. Chances are that some of the required tasks will set your imagination on fire and some won’t. This is okay. There’s far too much of this for one person anyway. Do the tasks that speak to you, and don’t feel guilty if you want to write stories that aren’t about your identity labels, too. Your voice matters, even when you aren’t talking about those. Don’t stop educating yourself, because there is intersection and variety within your own labels that you probably don’t know about. (This was certainly the case for me!) But don’t let anyone in your group make you feel guilty for writing from your own lived experience, your own fascinations, your own deeply held beliefs, and not theirs.

If you’re asking for advice for others in the community, and not just advice to disabled/queer writers themselves, then I have some other suggestions. Explicitly welcoming diverse submissions in your submission guidelines, if you’re an editor, is a wonderful thing. It’s easy to do and it really helps with the impostor syndrome, and the feeling of “no one wants to hear my story anyway,” which can be pervasive. Making sure that conventions and other science fiction spaces are accessible and that accommodations can be made – I can’t stress this enough. (This conversation often focuses on wheelchair access, which is important. But for autism specifically, having a quiet room to retreat to is often VERY helpful. There are certain conventions I will never, ever attend, because I would not be able to bear the crowds long enough to do anything useful or enjoyable there. I’m thinking especially of the very large, commercially-oriented ones.) And making sure that there is an actual policy to prevent and investigate harassment, which disproportionately targets all sorts of marginalized people, not only women.

Spec Can: Can you talk a bit about the under-representation of queer characters in SF?

Ada Hoffmann: Maybe! I feel like I’m the wrong person to talk about this in depth, because I’m dating a man. (Bisexuality is a thing, yay.) That doesn’t make me straight, and the emotions and experiences that make me different from a straight person are important to me. But it does mean that there are very wide swathes of queer experience which are not actually my experience at this point in my life, and I have to respect that.

What I’m finding these days is that there are a fair number of queer characters around if you know where to look, especially in short fiction. But it’s still hard to find queer characters who turn out happy with each other the way the straight characters do, as opposed to dying, or having a crush on a straight character who dies, or getting into an abusive relationship and turning evil, etc. Which is ironic, because hope is a thing that real queer people badly need.

I also have an absurd amount of difficulty finding depictions of polyamory that don’t suck. (Even Stranger in a Strange Land doesn’t do it right, IMO.) Same with power exchange, and with trans* and nonbinary characters (although Crossed Genres at least has a fair number of those lately), and also asexuality. All of which are important parts of what sexual diversity means. I’m realizing as I type this that I haven’t done enough of this in my own fiction, either.

Spec Can: What can SF do to give voice to people who are traditionally under-represented in society and in fiction?

Ada Hoffmann: First, we can imagine futures (or magical, alternate pasts and presents) in which under-represented people actually exist. This step is more of a mandatory basic minimum, but it’s neglected too often. Second, we can actively look for under-represented authors and find the SF they are already producing.

Going further than this, of course, we can naturally use SF for subversive purposes. We can imagine worlds in which we overcome oppression in new ways, or in which people flourish in new ways because oppression does not exist as it does here. Or we can build worlds in dystopian and satirical modes in order to point out the workings of oppressive systems in the real world.

But it doesn’t all have to be overtly political. There’s nothing wrong with SF serving more individual purposes: wish-fulfilment, catharsis, escape, validation, emotional regulation, education (in many senses), or just being a heck of a lot of fun to read. In a perfect world it would serve these purposes both for the majority and for the marginalized. Which means that as well as political stories we simply need a larger amount of awesome fiction which happens to be inclusive, and which doesn’t scare all the marginalized people away through casual prejudice and erasure.

Spec Can: You are able to write both science fiction and fantasy – in what ways do these two genres support each other and in what way do they challenge each other?

Ada Hoffmann: I’m not sure I even believe in a distinction between science fiction and fantasy. There’s just so much good stuff in the gray area in between. I like SF with magic-y bits and fantasy with science-y bits, and stuff like a China Miéville novel that doesn’t fit neatly into either category because it’s its own thing.

I think the idea of a clear distinction between science fiction and fantasy comes from the very 20th century idea that “science” and “magic” are incompatible. Modern people think this rule is so obvious that it has to apply even in imaginary worlds. And that’s so incredibly boring to me. It’s not even consistent with the way most people intuitively classify the genres. Most science fiction uses handwavey technology that isn’t plausible to modern scientists anyway, and series like Star Wars are full of outright mysticism.

I should note here that I don’t think mysticism is a bad thing. Or even an “unscientific” thing. It’s complicated.

But basically, rather than drawing lines telling people where science ends and magic begins, I’d rather look at the whole thing as one big umbrella genre where the imagination has free rein to do whatever it likes.

Spec Can: Magic and the mythical frequently shows up in your short stories and poetry. What continues to be powerful about magic and the mythical for readers?

Ada Hoffmann: For this sort of question I have to refer back to Carl Jung. The mythical will always be a part of the human mind at some level. “Realism” implies a certain set of rules for what is real, what it means for a thing to be real, and how the world works. But huge swathes of human experience, particularly the unconscious, do not conform to these rules. There are some truths that we can only tell through symbols, and through magical and mythical thinking. This is difficult for some people in mainstream Western culture to accept, but it will continue to be the case no matter how many shiny computers we have.

Spec Can: What do you do differently when you write poetry instead of short stories?

Ada Hoffmann: Poetry is a very different beast from short fiction. It’s not only structured differently, but it feels like it comes from a different place for me. With a short story I have to lay out exactly what is happening, where are we, who is in this place, what are they trying to do, how is this resolved, why should we care. Poetry is not laid out in this way. It can purport to tell a story (or not), but the story doesn’t need the same kind of scaffolding. Things sometimes come out of the depths of my brain and demand to be written as poems, whether I like it or not: there’s no use in laboring to contrive a full setting and plot to support them when they’re already strong enough to stand on their own. But in exchange for this kind of independence, poems have a desperate need for attention to imagery, rhythm, the impact of individual words. It’s detail work in a way that is often superfluous to short stories. Without this kind of attention a poem is just a splat of words on a page, or at best an anecdote or thought experiment, and it can’t survive.

Spec Can: What can poetry add to speculative fiction?

Ada Hoffmann: I’m having trouble answering this question. I assume you don’t mean literally putting poems in the middle of fiction. I’m in a bit of a bind here, because if a device from poetry can be used to good effect in fiction, it’s probably already been used in this way, and we can just continue to use it in fiction with no further recourse to poetry. And if it can’t be used in fiction, then by definition it’s not a useful addition to fiction. So there’s never a need for poetry in fiction, per se. But reading and writing good poetry brings our attention to imagery, to the details of how words are used, to beauty and other spectacular uses of the senses, to structures other than the typical linear narrative, and to the kind of ephemeral truths that fit best into these alternate structures. These are all things that I’m happy to see in fiction, too.

Spec Can: Is there anything further you would like to add to this interview?

Ada Hoffmann: No, I think I’ve talked your ear off already! But thanks for having me, and thanks for asking such interesting questions. I’ve enjoyed this.

I want to thank Ada Hoffmann for all of her insights and thoughts and for her work advocating for traditionally under-represented groups in Speculative Fiction. I hope that you have enjoyed her insights and thoughts as much as I have.

To find out more about Ada Hoffmann and her work, check out her website at http://ada-hoffmann.com/

Interview with Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey about Nelvana of the Northern Lights

An Interview with Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey About Nelvana of the Northern Lights
By Derek Newman-Stille

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, and Rachel Richey.

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, and Rachel Richey.

I met Hope Nicholson and Rachel Richey at the recent Fan Expo Canada where they revealed that they were working on an archival project about the Canadian comic book character Nelvana of the Northern Lights, one of the world’s first superheroines in a field that was largely dominated by male superheroes. Nelvana predated Wonder Woman and paved the way for the inclusion of women in heroic roles in comic books.

Rachel Richey and Hope Nicholson revealed that they were seeking to resurrect Nelvana of the Northern Lights, re-publishing some of these Canadian comic book history gems. I am fortunate that they were willing to share some of their insights with us here on Speculating Canada. 

Spec Can: Hope and Rachel, could you tell us a little bit about yourselves to begin this interview?

Hope Nicholson: Sure, I’m a producer for the upcoming documentary film Lost Heroes (directed by Orphan Black and Bitten writer Will Pascoe) and work fulltime in the media industry. I have a BA in communications and film studies from York U, but I’m from Winnipeg originally.

Rachel Richey: I have a background in English and Journalism, and have worked in communications. I worked for Library and Archives Canada on the John Bell collection of Canadian Comics, and write a history blog referencing Canadian comics as well called Comicsyrup, and I did research for Lost Heroes as well. I currently manage a comic shop in Toronto, and work with the Doug Wright Awards and the Joe Shuster Awards.

Spec Can: What is the history of Nelvana of the Northern Lights?

Hope Nicholson: Nelvana of the Northern Lights was inspired by a story told to Group of 7 artist Franz Johnston during his travels up north to different Inuit towns. He then relayed the bones of the story, about a female protector of the North who was the daughter of a god, to his illustrator friend Adrian Dingle. When WWII started and US comics were banned from entering Canada, Adrian Dingle decided to start up his own comic book series, headlined by the adventures of Nelvana of the Northern Lights, who he changed from a crone to a ‘doll in a miniskirt’. After 31 issues headlining the series Triumph, the series came to an end and Nelvana faded from history. At the time, she had her own graphic novel and merchandise available for purchase, making her one of the more recognizable characters of that time period. She was brought back in the 1970s by a group of ambitious animators named Michael Hirsh, Patrick Loubert, and Clive Smith, who purchased the rights and collections to the entire Bell Features catalogue, including the Nelvana issues. They then formed their own animation company which they named Nelvana and travelled around Canada to showcase the original artwork. Nothing has been done with her since, sadly (until now!)

Spec Can: Could you tell us a little bit about what got you interested in Nelvana of the Northern Lights? What inspired your passion about this comic series? 

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada. Copyright Corus Entertainment

Hope Nicholson: Around 6 years ago, even though I was obsessed with comic books, I had no idea that Canada had its own history with the medium. Finding out about the Canadian Golden Age, thrilled and angered me. These comics are amazing, why were they been pushed into an obscure part of history, they sold millions of issues across Canada! Nelvana was the most compelling of the bunch. You can’t look at the artwork of these issues and not see the skill and talent behind it. The stories were fairly sophisticated for a comic book, but never dragged on. The villains were colourful and charmingly eccentric (ether people, Queen of Static, mammoth men). It was just a fun read and beautiful to look at, even though I had to read badly scanned copies on microfiche!

Rachel Richey: Mine is a similar story to Hope’s, actually. About 3 years ago I discovered the same thing and had the same reaction. When I found out what the Archives had I essentially begged them to let me catalogue it. They didn’t actually even know what was in there! Luckily they let me do it (Best job ever) and since then it’s been my prime directive to make people aware of Canada’s comics industry. Nelvana in particular is a favourite, how could it not be? She’s righteous and intense. She’s a babe! She’s tough and interesting, not a run of the mill hero. She’s honest. This comic is quality work and confidently, awesomely, distinctly Canadian. Something that should be within reach to anyone growing up reading comics.

Spec Can: What got you interested in digitizing Nelvana of the Northern Lights and making the comics available to the public?

Hope Nicholson: As soon as I saw the comics I knew I had to share them with the world, it wasn’t fair that Adrian Dingle doesn’t get the respect he deserves for creating this wonderful character. When I first had access to the microfiche I would go to the library every day after work and copy as many pages as I could to a digital drive before the library closed. I did this until I had the complete run of Triumph comics (32 issues at roughly 60 pages each!) digitized for my own interest. While working on Lost Heroes I discovered who the current copyright holders were and my interest was renewed. With the rise of Kickstarter I realized that the financial burdens of getting these comics digitized, printed, and distributed could be lightened and we could actually do it. So we are.

Rachel Richey: During the time Nelvana was published, American comics were off limits to Canadians, as they were not allowed to be imported into the country. What is so amazing about Nelvana is that she had Canadians’ attention to be anything she wanted. Nelvana had an eager audience, and she was never overshadowed by American culture which has never since been the same. Kids could participate in the contests and see the names of Canadian cities in the letter pages. I think what was cultivated both tangibly and intangibly in these pages is something that should have been passed on ages ago, and we’re so desperately excited to do so.

Spec Can: What is different about Nelvana of the Northern Lights from other super heroes or heroines?

Hope Nicholson: Her connection to the Northern people is the most prevalent theme in her issues. I won’t say that Adrian Dingle always does the best in his representation, but it’s rare to find representations of the north in comic books today. Even though her powers can be used to injure, she’s a pacifist and is strongly sympathetic to the horrors of war as mentioned a few times in the series. It’s also striking how the series isn’t quite sure what genre it’s supposed to be. It blends elements of crime, sci-fi, adventure and humour comics. Luckily it stays away from romance for the most part. Nelvana has a male companion, the RCMP officer Corporal Keene, but there’s no romantic attachment there.

Rachel Richey: I agree with Hope, but my favourite thing about Nelvana is that she is independent. Perhaps given the extra 65 years to develop story line Nelvana would have been swayed romantically, but for the 31 issues, she’s pretty much business and I really think this is a positive role model for women reading comics, and also young girls, who are presented with a singular role model unhindered by excessive romance and more about positively caring for other people and the environment. She’s got her priorities.

Spec Can: What do you feel are some of the most important features that a comic book series should have?

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada. Copyright Corus Entertainment

Hope Nicholson: I prefer a strong serial narrative. I love comics in a way that if I was a different person, I could have loved soap operas. I want to tune in and be on the edge of my seat to find out what happens next. Character interactions with each other and development of personality is more interesting and compelling to me than action scenes, or even elaborate plots. Of course, if they look good that’s always nice too.

Rachel Richey: Yeah, I would say that I love dialogue/character interaction and art best. And like most comics during this period, they only got better with age. Dingle’s brush stroke later in the series is to die for.

Spec Can: What is particularly Canadian about Nelvana of the Northern Lights? Is there something about her that speaks to the Canadian experience?

Hope Nicholson: I like that it doesn’t stick with one genre. We’re a nation where our literature often blurs the lines of expectations. We usually can’t do superheroes unless they’re parodies, because of the strict superhero genre is confining and inaccessible to us. American based creators do strict genre very well, and we’re all pleased to read their superhero comics, and watch their procedural cop shows, but it’s not a format that most Canadians has been comfortable creating in. Nelvana succeeded and is so interesting precisely because it doesn’t need to stay within the confines of the superhero genre.

Rachel Richey: Great answer, Hope. Nelvana is around the RCMP. Nelvana is around snow. Nelvana is associated with the North. Fur trim. She’s not glamorous. She doesn’t need recognition. She’s good because why wouldn’t she be if someone else is suffering and she can do something about it?

Spec Can: How did Nelvana represent underrepresented groups and how does this differ from most comic book representations of women, aboriginal people, and other underrepresented groups, particularly those of the time?

Hope Nicholson: The fact that there is representation of Inuit people is amazing. Adrian Dingle does venture sometimes into either over-romanticizing the ‘tragic northern people’ as was common at the time, and vilifying the Japanese in a way that’s quite jarring to read now. On the whole though, the Inuit people are an integral part of the early Nelvana storylines, which is impressive. I wouldn’t necessarily say it is the most positive representation, since it’s not terribly nuanced or varied. As a woman, Nelvana to me is a great representation. Admittedly, she does get bound in her first few issues and needs to be rescued from her brother, but from that point on she takes control of the story fully. To the point where she tells her one-arc love interest Prince Targa that she doesn’t need to be saved by him. She’s acknowledged as being beautiful, but her attractiveness has little to do with any storylines and isn’t the focus of her character.

Rachel Richey: Nelvana is a woman who gives the inuit people a presence in comics in the 40s. I would say gender played about as much role in Nelvana as it did in say, Superman or other Golden Age comics. It was more about the adventure, it was committed to the story. There was no subtext or other purpose than to have this story with these people because it was a good story, which to me is a good enough reason. Like Hope said, in the beginning it wasn’t a perfect portrayal but it was pretty impressive relative to other comics in the 40s.

Spec Can: What is the importance of remembering Canadian comic book history?

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada. Copyright Corus Entertainment

Hope Nicholson: We [Canadians] don’t do a great job of remembering our own history or spreading it. The few of us who are fascinated by it sometimes feel alienated by our interest and so the information stays with us and our like-minded friends. We need to stop that and start bothering people in the world even if they seem bored by it! We need anchors to our past, to our history, so we don’t make mistakes that we have in the past, and so we feel connected to a culture that we’ve all worked hard to create.

Rachel Richey: Comics are a beautiful form of literature and storytelling. Beyond the fact that these comics are so original to Canada, they are part of an extremely interesting time in Canadian history. But they’re the foundation of Canada’s comics history and after so many years in the dust they need support.

Spec Can: How would you feel about the idea of doing a new run of Nelvana of the Northern Lights  comics… a new series or revisioning/ revamping of the comics for a modern audience?

Rachel Richey: I would love it! Who knows what the future holds!

Spec Can: In what way do you think Nelvana may have inspired the women in comics who came after her?

Hope Nicholson: I don’t think she inspired anyone. No one knows about her! But I’m hoping after this project she will inspire some creators. If fans think that modern comics must be more open-minded and progressive than they were in the past, this should open their eyes a bit. Since the Canadian comic industry faded off after the 1950s, there were few enough children who grew up reading Nelvana who actually went into the comic book industry afterwards, even though millions of children at the time did know who she was.

Rachel Richey: This is what I meant before. She is part of an amazing foundation of comics that was essentially lost after 1946. Our culture and industry pretty much HAVE YET to be inspired by her.

Spec Can: What do you hope will happen with the Nelvana of the Northern Lights project?

Hope Nicholson: I hope that when I say Nelvana of the Northern Lights, the vast majority of comic fans will instantly understand who she is and what significance she has to our history, and to the history of comics in general.

Rachel Richey: Yep, Hope pretty much hit the nail on the head. I want to make her AT LEAST a comics household name.

Spec Can: Is there anything further you would like to add to this interview?

Hope Nicholson: We were lucky to discover Nelvana because collectors and researchers made hints of information available about her. But who knows what comic characters and history is still hidden? Be modern day adventurers, ask your grandparents what they read, look into old publishers! Curiosity is the strongest motivation for us to get as far as we have.

Rachel Richey: Another one, and one that I can’t stress strongly enough, is support small press. You never know what great gems you will find there and you’ll be supporting Canadian produced comics and, I’m sure, inevitably a healthier indigenous comics industry.

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada

Image courtesy of Hope Nicholson, Rachel Richey, and Libraries and Archives Canada. Copyright Corus Entertainment

I want to thank Ms. Nicholson and Ms. Richey for this fantastic interview and voyage into Canadian comic book history, and, particularly, the history of female figures in Canadian superhero comics. I hope everyone else is as excited as I am about the re-release of the Nelvana of the Northern Lights comics and I think that after this interview I am even MORE interested in reading the Nelvana comics.

I particularly enjoy the fact that Nelvana seems to appear in this interview almost like another participant – she has become so intense, so powerful, so REAL for Ms. Richey and Ms. Nicholson that she is almost voicing herself in this interview. One can easily see the mythic potential of Nelvana of the Northern Lights based on the way she has evoked such a strong response and LOVE from these two researchers. Thank you to both of these researchers for a fascinating interview and for bringing Nelvana alive for us out of the depths of history.

If you are interested in Rachel Richey’s Canadian comic book history blog Comicsyrup, you can explore it at http://comicsyrup.com/ .

You can check out information about the Canadian comic book history documentary Lost Heroes  that Hope Nicholson is producing at their Facebook site at https://www.facebook.com/LostHeroesMovie .

You can explore information about Nelvana of the Northern Lights and Rachel Richey and Hope Nicholson’s project to republish this classic comic book figure at their Facebook site at https://www.facebook.com/NelvanaComics