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/

Year in Review: Speculative Fiction Versus Realist Fiction – from the authors

Alien mountieWell, we have had an amazing year in 2012 on Speculating Canada…. one could even describe it as a fantastic year. Although Speculating Canada has only been around since July, it has been an incredible opportunity to explore Canadian Speculative Fiction and explore the incredible amounts of knowledge that authors bring into the world and lens that they place on exploring social issues.

Re-reading all of the interview posts, I am reminded of how incredible these interviews were and the gems of information and insight that writers have provided. I hope you enjoy being re-enlightened by our authors. Every interview I have done has been an incredible learning experience for me.

claudegeo

Author photo courtesy of Claude Lalumiere

Claude Lalumiere:

”So many authors who work within realism do not realize that they are operating within the confines of a genre with very specific rules and tropes. I’m not a fan of realism’s hegemonic stature in literature and culture in general. There’s nothing inferior about romance (in the classical sense) or escapism. All fiction is literature, all fiction is art. That doesn’t mean that all of it is good, but there’s good stuff and bad stuff in all genres, including realism.

“Fantastic fiction (as I like to call it) does have the quality of seeming to have no restrictions whatsoever. And that journey into the unknown can be thrilling, dangerous, intoxicating, wondrous – or, best of all, all of that at once.”

“My fiction tends to ask questions, not provide answers.”

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

Steve Vernon:

Steve Vernon with a beaver... so Canadian!!

Author photo courtesy of Steve Vernon

“Monster stories help instill the belief that the human spirit can will out and triumph over the power of evil.”

“I’ve long been fascinated with seeing how ordinary people deal with the face of evil. That’s who my favorite characters are – just regular downhome kind of people. I like to imagine them brave and wild and romantic and full of life – because we all have that potential buried deep inside ourselves. So – when I sat down to write Sudden Death Overtime I just took the toughest people I had ever dreamed of and threw them up against the forces of darkness.”

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

Ian Rogers:

Ian Rogers Author Photo, courtesy of the author.

Author photo courtesy of Ian Rogers

“I’ve always said that if people are only interested in my work purely as entertainment, then I’m cool with that. I think every story needs to keep the reader amused as the first goal. If your story is full of theme and depth, but it’s boring as all hell, then who cares how deep your work is, or how much inner meaning there is, because no one’s going to bother to read it anyway! And quite frankly, if you are consciously trying to pound a message or meaning into your story, I assure you it’s going to come across that way to the reader and they will be turned off. Guaranteed. The best stories with meaning or theme or depth are the ones that allow the readers to come to those conclusions naturally and on their own terms.”

“When I write a story I’m trying to come up with something that, while entertaining, also makes some sort of sense. It doesn’t mean I believe in ghosts or monsters, but it’s important that my characters do. Part of building a world where these things exist is to cement them in the world I know.”

“I’ve always felt that it’s the little things, and the little “real” things, that truly make a story. Sometimes it’s realistic dialogue, sometimes it’s a strange habit of one of the characters. Whatever it is, it’s usually a small touch, but it goes a long way toward making the reader feel more at home in the story, and consequently more accepting of the fantasy you’re trying to give them.”

“I think most people have an inherent attraction to the fantastical. Ironically, the spec fic stories I like best are the ones that are rooted in some semblance of reality. The ones that seem like they could actually happen. In terms of horror fiction, I find that sense of realism adds to the feeling of terror and dread.”

“I think there’s more to horror fiction that a monster or a supernatural element. Lots of things that may not seem horrific on the surface can be turned into a horror story. That’s one of the great things about horror. It’s insidious in the way it can sneak into a story — a story that might not be neatly slotted in the Horror section at the local bookstore.”

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

Nancy Kilpatrick:

Photo courtesy of Nancy Kilpatrick

Author photo courtesy of 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.”

“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.”

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

Paul Marlowe:

Author Photo courtesy of Paul Marlowe

Author Photo courtesy of Paul Marlowe

“There was a time when it was considered normal to imagine the future of Canada, and to work towards building that future. Now, with it more important than ever to imagine alternative futures, we avoid it, because taking the future seriously would require making drastic changes right now in the lifestyle of affluence and luxury we enjoy, and would require terrible sacrifices – like driving our cars less, or not taking that flight to Florida. We’ve grown used to thinking of sacrifice as someone else’s job.

“Speculative fiction has as one of its goals the imagination of alternative futures. It also reconsiders the past. Not infrequently it raises big questions. By sidelining it, and focusing exclusively on fiction dealing either with the present and the narrowly personal, or resuscitating yesterday’s controversies, we’re avoiding some of the major problems – like global warming, population, distribution of wealth, mass extinction, the ethics of technology, the role of government in pursuing the common good, the increasing alienation of people from their own governments, the individual vs the group, and threats to individual privacy – that will dominate history in the coming generations. While speculative fiction doesn’t exist simply to prophesy or to provide political stimulus, it offers the opportunity for those kinds of explorations.”

“By looking past immediate present experience at possible worlds, good SF can offer what is so needed but so little found: intelligent thought about the world beyond our own little rut. The problem it faces is whether anyone is interested in hearing what SF writers have to say, and whether – in the welter of distraction that we’re immersed in – stories make any real difference.”

“If SF is to have an influence not only on where Canada is heading, but on where humanity is heading, it will have to do something other than shock us will apocalyptic visions, since those have become entertainment. It will have to make us think.”

“If the books contain thought-provoking ideas, too, so much the better. In that environment, SF is not at such a disadvantage.”

“The criticism often levelled at SF by Lit types and by more literal-minded readers – that it is “mere escapism” – has less sting when directed at YA books because adults sometimes condescend to allow children the opportunity to indulge in frivolous pass-times, such as imagination.”

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

IMG_2426

Author photo courtesy of Douglas Smith

Douglas Smith:

“I don’t really differentiate between the human and non-human characters. Writing a story for me means understanding my characters and telling the story via their journeys through it. An alien may be completely different from us in physiology, intelligence, culture, spiritual beliefs, and moral code, but all sentient creatures will be motivated by something, both as a race and as individuals. It’s just a matter of understanding what is important to a character.”

“If there is a social issue that a writer wishes to explore and bring attention to, speculative fiction provides the freedom through its “distorted mirror” to let a writer bring whatever focus they desire to that issue. I really see no limits. Rather, I think that SF&F offer more options for doing so than within the restrictions of mainstream mimetic fiction.”

“Fantasy or SF can use other worlds–future or alternate–to focus on aspects of our real world, our shared beliefs, our conflicting beliefs, our humanity, our inhumanity, our potential, our failings, to let us view ourselves through a different lens, at a slightly different angle. Speculative fiction, by the very nature of its unreality, can make us see our reality in ways that mimetic fiction cannot. How we relate to those views, which messages resonate with us as individual readers, can then tell us something about ourselves.”

“I think that the [Speculative Fiction] genre’s greatest power as a literature is, to paraphrase the great SF anthologist Damon Knight, to hold up a distorted mirror to our current reality, to focus on some aspect of our world which needs to change (in the writer’s opinion). It’s that “if this goes on…” type of story that allows SF to provide a social commentary in a way that mimetic fiction cannot.

“That’s the power of SF and fantasy (and I’d put SF as a specific subset of fantasy)–there are fewer (no?) limitations to the types of stories that I can tell. The stories still need an internal logic and consistency, but I’m not bound by any concerns of matching current reality. That is wonderfully freeing for a writer.”

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

Kelley Armstrong:

Photo of Derek Newman-Stille and Kelley Armstrong at Trent University's Alumni House

Photo of Derek Newman-Stille and Kelley Armstrong at Trent University’s Alumni House

“The supernatural can be a way of showing people dealing with issues in a larger-than-life fashion. I often have issues of identity in mine—finding one’s true self, accepting the self, finding one’s place in society. Having a character deal with being, for example, a werewolf lets me do that in a fun and entertaining way.”

“Speculative fiction helps expand the world of possibilities. Readers—and students—see new possibilities for new ways of thinking and living. The fact that it takes place in a fantastical world often makes it easier to consider those challenges and issues, divorced from the emotional baggage of a reader’s own world or experience. For example, science fiction novels often include elements of racism—how does one alien race treat another—and that allows readers to consider the issues in an abstract way and then transfer those ideas over to the realm of their own world and experience.”

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

Chadwick Ginther:

Author photo courtesy of Chadwick Ginther

Author photo courtesy of Chadwick Ginther

“People call speculative fiction “escapist,” as if that is a bad thing. I live a realistic life. Why would I want to spend my time writing about only the drudgery of everyday. I want things to happen. Things that couldn’t happen to me. But that doesn’t mean good prose has to be sacrificed for plot. With mythic fiction, and really all of speculative fiction, I can have my cake and eat it too. I can have an exploration of deep philosophical issues or the nature of humanity side by side with big, bold ideas and an action-packed read. I can’t think of another art form that blends the two sensibilities better than speculative fiction does. Besides which, all fiction is fantasy. Even if a writer is basing a story on real events or real people, they are inventing thoughts and feelings and the little details. Fiction by definition isn’t true, but it can hold truth—even when you’re writing about the god of lies.”

“I don’t think Mythology will ever stop being relevant. It was our ancestors’ way of trying to explain what they couldn’t understand. At their core, people have the same basic desires, faults and virtues as we ever have, some of us are kind, some jealous; we’ll always be able to see something of ourselves in these stories from the past. Otherwise the myths would have faded with their original tellers.”

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

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Author photo courtesy of Karen Dudley

Karen Dudley:

“[Writing Speculative Fiction] can liberate you! I’ve written four contemporary mystery novels, and when I started to write Food for the Gods, it took me a while to realize that I didn’t have to be limited by reality. Gods crashing dinner parties? No problem. Furies attacking the Athenian marketplace? Why not? It was incredibly freeing. As a writer, speculative fiction allows you to take your characters that much further. They’re still human, of course (well, most of them are), but you’re taking them beyond the normal human experience and seeing how they deal with it. It’s a lot of fun!

“At the same time, of course, speculative fiction has always been used to reflect or comment on contemporary issues and society through the creation of worlds that are different from our own, but still recognizable. While Food for the Gods isn’t intended to be political in any way, it still allowed me to address some timeless themes—including the trials of being an outsider in a foreign land; the need to escape the “sins of the father”; and the complex and sometimes treacherous relationship between people and their gods.”

“The truth is that mythology spells out all the things we want, fear, hope, and dream in pretty basic imagery and themes. These are not timeworn tales with nothing to say to us, because our fears and desires really haven’t changed since these stories were born. They illuminate us, they transform us. That’s why ‘old’ myths still resonate.”

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

Liz Strange:

Photo of Liz Strange (Courtesy of Liz Strange)

Author photo courtesy of Liz Strange

“The monster is romantic and sympathetic, because it lives in all of us. Human beings are complicated, challenging, frustrating, wondrous beings, capable of many things both inspiring and horrifying.”

“I like my readers to be entertained, first and foremost, but I also like to spark some interest in things they may never have thought of before. I like to intrigue, incite curiosity and challenge people to think outside their comfort zone. The world is a big place, full of wonder, mystery, beauty and misery.”

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

Helen Marshall:

Author Photo Courtesy of Helen Marshall

Author Photo Courtesy of Helen Marshall

“Weird fiction, at its best, unsettles us. Realist fiction can also do that, but that isn’t necessarily its goal. I love the idea of a kind of writing designed deliberately to shock, to surprise, to unbalance and unnerve. It has a kind of intensity to it, and it makes us consider ourselves from oblique angles rather than head-on.”

“For me ghosts are terrifying because they are us. What I see when I look at a ghost is myself. And so if the ghost is really just an image of your own future—that is, you when you are dead, the you that you can’t comprehend or imagine—then in some way you are also the ghost of your own future self. We leave things behind, and mostly those things are former versions of ourselves. It seems natural, then, that ghosts are also a figure for something that wants to be remembered, even if we want desperately to forget it.”

“What I try to do is find a bizarre premise and use it as a way into something that is deeply emotional: every new oddity ought to feel like a natural extension of the rules of the world. It feels like it fits. For me, the process of writing strange fiction is falling into a world where each new revelation comes with a shock—but also with a sense of recognition.”

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

nina-fireplace-crop01-close2-web

Author photo courtesy of Nina Munteanu

Nina Munteanu:

“The literature of the fantastic: speculative literature, science fiction, fantasy… explore—nay—celebrate and bridge the gap between logic and imagination, the mundane and the extraordinary, the known and the strange, order and infinite possibility.”

“Curiosity is a wonderful trait to cultivate. When you’re curious you step outside of yourself into a wonderful world. One of the things I re-learned from my son was how to stop and look. Really look, as in bend down on hands and knees and peer close, get dirty. Curiosity feeds our souls. It slows us down so we can pay attention. It teaches us to be interested in our world, to observe and feel. It helps us crawl outside the box, peer around corners into dark alleys where thrilling adventure lurks.”

“The science fiction genre is the pre-eminent literature of allegory and metaphor. By describing “the other” (what does not yet exist, what might never exist) science fiction writers describe “us”. Through our POV characters and their world’s reactions to the unknown.

“Speculative fiction predicts consequence to current conditions. It projects into the future or alternate reality from current paradigms in science, technology and society. Speculative fiction uses the premise, “What if?”:  “What if this continued?” “What if we used that this way?”; “What if this caused that?”. It provides the proverbial “canary in the mine” on society. Where realist fiction makes commentary on our current society, speculative fiction takes that commentary into the realm of consequence by showing it to us in living colour. It is the ghost of future, present and past to our Scrooge. The arm of speculative fiction reaches far. This is its power over realist fiction and why, I think, mainstream realist authors like Margaret Atwood have discovered and embraced this genre (her latest three books are all speculative fiction). Speculative fiction doesn’t just “tell us”; it can “show us”.”

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

Nancy Baker:

Author photo courtesy of Nancy Baker

Author photo courtesy of Nancy Baker

“At its best, horror and fantastic literature can show us the darkness that humans are capable of and to reveal that the reader shares that potential.  It can also show us that the “other” is sometimes as deserving of compassion as we hope that we are.”

“Vampire fiction has been used to look at issues of addiction, oppression, disease, predation, and sexuality.  It’s also been used just to scare the hell out of us.  Every new generation of readers and writers has the advantage of looking at what came before (from the classics such as Carmilla and Dracula to Salem’s Lot and Interview with the Vampire to Twilight and The Passage) and reacting to it, either by emulating it or turning it on its head.

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

Gemma Files:

Author photo courtesy of Gemma Files

Author photo courtesy of Gemma Files

“Because I work primarily in the field of horror, the idea of the Alien—the Other—is a really integral one, one which underlies an amazing amount of human psychology. You see it all through history, and it’s not like it’s gone away: This impulse to say some people are different and therefore lesser, undeserving of sympathy, actively malign—people we can call animals, monsters, and feel perfectly fine about routinely trying to contain, police, punish or even exterminate. But the flip-side of this impulse is the realization that “monsters”, Others, Aliens are almost never as different from you as they seem. That you, in fact, are most often a monster’s “monster”.

“This is a hard lesson, but a useful one, and Speculative Fiction explores it constantly, over and over. And it does that, I believe, because people both know in their gut that it’s true yet hope against hope that it’s not. This tension drives almost everything, and it’s testing this tension which is Speculative Fiction’s most useful quality, potentially: Our ability to tell and re-tell ourselves metaphorical fables about the things that are happening all around us, set in some pleasantly distant future, past or alternative universe, which may possibly help us to make good decisions about the here and now.”

“Magic is a fantasy of ultimate power in a mainly-powerless world, but our own self-knowledge quotient means that we know the shadow lurks underneath everything—that whatever good we do by magic means is bound to sour, especially if improperly paid for. We’ve all read most of the same fairytales, so the principles always seem familiar: Horror is fluid, and just like in folklore, the general principle of horror is not only that things can always change, but that if—when—they do, it’ll probably be something that you did which is the cause of that change. Which is sort of positive, in a way…therapeutic, almost. Monstrosity is not a permanent state, or doesn’t have to be, so long as one understands but doesn’t excuse one’s own nature and takes responsibility for one’s own actions.”

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

Jerome Stueart:

Author photo courtesy of Jerome Stueart

Author photo courtesy of Jerome Stueart

“Speculation is about seeing natural consequences, about thinking about choices and figuring out where they will lead, and about large-scale societal consequences.  I think speculative fiction is the reason we don’t condone cloning, or have nuclear war—science fiction showed us that there are no good ways of having those, and we believed them.  Silent Spring is a “speculative novel” written as nonfiction by Rachel Carson with such an apocalyptic vision of the dangers of DDT and other chemicals we were putting on crops and in the air—with real evidence– that it scared people into regulation.  Carson used speculative tools to give reason to turn the boat around.

“Unfortunately, speculation in the wrong hands can just be fear-mongering.  Recent commercials against Obama speculated a world four years from now full of apocalypse!  Without any evidence.  It was cheap scare tactics, but they worked on some people who couldn’t extrapolate from evidence, or who couldn’t question the premises or the evidence.  I saw that in both political parties.  If we don’t “produce” thinking minds—in every place in society—fear mongering will work, evidence won’t count.  That scares me.

“Climate Change has to find a way to alert people to change without becoming alarmist—but we have a society less-inclined to think for themselves now, and less-inclined to value knowledge and preventative measures.  We’re all about reacting now.  We’re all about consuming.  We’re living like it’s the last days on Earth and we want our feast.  Anyone who says we have to “cut back” which is the message of climate change—restraint—is taking away “our fun.”  We are such a Mine Culture, not a Mind Culture.  We may live together, but we don’t think together.

“I would put MORE speculative literature in the classroom starting with Kim Stanley Robinson’s climate change series, Science in the Capital—or his Three Californias. I would teach kids to imagine their own futures—what will they be doing 20 years from now, and what will society be like.  What do they WANT society to be like?  And where do they see the forces in control trying to lead us?  Kids can be taught to think speculatively and use it wisely. “

“I think SF can help us get ready for change, and see change as positive and desirable.  We get in our ruts.  If we want the Star Trek universe—we’re gonna have to work for it.  LOL.  But I think it can examine multiple paths for us—examining all possible scenarios and showing us a positive path.

“The danger of SF, though, is that it inherently likes NOT so positive paths.  They present more of what readers desire: conflict, danger, suspense.  So we get much more apocalyptic SF which shows us what NOT to do, but rarely shows us HOW to get to the change.

“The challenge for SF writers is to imagine us a path to get to the change and show it as a positive one.  And that I think is the most fun.  Star Trek cheated a bit by shooting so far in the future that all those things like poverty, greed, violence, were all gone by the 24th century.  We’ve been spending the last 45 years trying to figure out how Gene thought that might happen!  But at least it modeled diversity for us.  I recall Nichelle Nichols’ wonderful story of her encounter with Martin Luther King, Jr. just before she was about to quit the show.  He encourages her to stay on because he too believes that SF is the literature of change.  He saw her presence on the bridge as a model for behavior and hope for a positive future beyond Race.  So in this way, SF is a model for change—it models good behavior, even if it doesn’t have all the answers.”

“Maybe that’s the greatest strength of SF—it has a wide angled lens.  SF is about commenting on societal problems more than character problems.  Maybe that’s why the characters can be more universal, and sometimes flatter, because SF is interested in the “what if” of the story—the what if of the society.  It can handle a universal character because the society is what we want to examine in SF, and the choices a society makes.

“But again, it also has a chance to be more society-scaled prescriptive—and model societal behavior and model change that realistic fiction can’t.  SF is the quantum reality of realistic fiction.  While realistic fiction might concentrate on individuals and their changes, SF goes wide to take the choices and changes of a large group.“

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

Noah Chinn:

Author photo courtesy of Noah Chinn

Author photo courtesy of Noah Chinn

“You’re not constrained by reality to get your message across. You could write a story about banning books in a realistic fiction story set in modern day, sure.  But what if you wanted to take it further to get your point across? It would be of hard to write something with the impact of Fahrenheit 451 without creating a society in which all books are banned.  You need to think not only of why, but what form that world would take, how people live their lives, the consequences of that culture on people’s behavior, and so on.  You need to create a world that doesn’t exist, but you can believe could – even if only for the duration of the story.”

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/interview-with-noah-chinn/

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).

The Vampire’s Gaze

A Review of Nancy Kilpatrick’s Berserker in Vampyric Variations(Edge, forthcoming 2012)

Photo of cover provided by Nancy Kilpatrick

Nancy Kilpatrick never makes things easy for her reader or provide them with simple answers. Her creative gift is to teach through her writing and open up questions, complicating the potential answers to remind you that answers themselves are too simple and impossible – answers are the main fantasy in her works.

In the short story Berserker, Kilpatrick uses the second person to put you in the position of Dracula himself. It transposes the familiarity of your own body as the reader with the foreignness and otherness that she inscribes on you through the narrative voice – by calling Dracula “you”. Her voice in the narrative insists that you are both human and not human, just as the vampire itself is a figure that straddles the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between familiar and strange. She evokes in her reader an intense interest and insight into Dracula’s mental and psychological state. Her narrative voice inserts his voice into your mind like a voice on the shadows of your consciousness whispering thoughts into your head.

From this othered normalcy that she creates, Nancy Kilpatrick is able to help the reader to both see and also question their own modernity, their assumptions, their beliefs. She critiques modernity for the need to “know” something by putting it into a category, controlling it. She reminds the reader that this need to control or believe in the illusion of control is born out of fear of things that don’t make sense, things that defy easy categories.

But even when critiquing control and ideas about control of the self and other, Kilpatrick doesn’t make “control” an easily definable thing. There is no real escape from control and no simple solution that suggest ‘this is it, now get yourself out of it.’ She portrays Dracula’s encounter with Victorian notions of femininity and the stern and strict controls that are placed on Victorian women. Dracula asserts his vampiric powers over the Victorian woman, seeing his own wild ‘control’ as an escape from social suppression. However, the vampiric does not release women from control, only from social convention. It is not freedom, but another set of chains. Nancy Kilpatrick complicates the very notion of control itself and asks her readers if we are ever really free.

Home is a key feature in this narrative. Playing on the idea that the vampire must sleep in his or her own home soil, Kilpatrick creates a vampire who is stranded between his heart’s home that was formative in his creation, his Transylvania, and his new home of England, a controlled place that lacks the wild beauty of his native soil. The land itself is infused with blood and bloodlines, it shapes her characters, pumping itself through their veins. We are all formed by notions of home – it creates us, shapes us, and we will always lay in our own earth, even if we bring it with us riding on our emotions and soul.

But even home is unstable and when you go to a new place and taste of their blood, it flows through you.

Kilpatrick’s Dracula is disgusted at the ecological damage being done around him by science’s assertion of its own control, and she proposes that perhaps the only thing that can speak for nature is the most unnatural of creatures. By using the vampire’s gaze, the immortal gaze, she reminds the reader that nature cannot be understood or fully grasped by short-term goals – nature is ancient and requires a longer observation. Our technological progress only sees short term, immediate goals and ignores the long-term effects, but the vampire has seen ages of change and knows about the impermanency of human life and the persistence of nature. She reminds us that “The mortals have much to learn from what they deem inferior life forms.”

You can explore more about Ms. Kilpatrick and her current work on her website http://www.sff.net/people/nancyk/ . Check out Vampyric Variations on the Edge website http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/vampyricvariations/vv-catalog.html

Needles and Fangs

A Review of Nancy Kilpatrick’s The Vechi Barbat in Vampyric Variations (Edge, Forthcoming October 2012).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Although set in a psychiatric facility and featuring a Romanian protagonist, Nancy Kilpatrick’s short story The Vechi Barbat is fundamentally a very Canadian tale containing traditional Can Lit themes. Her story is about the struggle between tradition and modernity, the tug that the traditions of the past have on a person while they seek out the desired spaces of the future. Kilpatrick’s narrator, Nita, is a woman from a small Romanian village who has been told that her destiny is to look after the village old man, the Vechi Barbat, who is trapped in a cage, doesn’t age, and needs blood to survive. She wants to go to university and study anthropology, to move away from her village that is mostly populated by the elderly (most of the young have moved away to pursue futures elsewhere).

Nita sees her village as trapped, stuck with outmoded ideas and mired in the past. She seeks to educate her village on the new ideas and thoughts she has adopted while abroad, to teach them that their mythology of the Vechi Barbat cannot possibly be true, but tradition retains its hold on her, showing her that no one can totally escape from family and their past. This is the classic Canadian theme of the desire to get away from family obligations to create a new life and the essential and irresistible draw of the past, of home, and of tradition. Like many protagonists in Can Lit, Nita finds that she can’t escape from home, but is rather torn between tradition and new ideologies – suspended in an uncontrolled present that is a tear in the timeline between future and past.

Kilpatrick’s tale is set in a psychiatric institution, the perfect space for someone torn between future and past, disrupted and disturbed. Like the Vechi Barbat, she is confined, trapped, and the psychiatric hospital is strangely reminiscent of the vampire himself – cold, white, sterile, and fundamentally dead. She is controlled by medication, where he was controlled by starvation and, although she didn’t feel the bite of the vampire’s teeth themselves, she feels their bite by proxy through the needles injected into her body that erase reality in their attempts to subdue and control her mind.

The psychiatric institution is a place of control, a place where tradition is denied and where the only reality that can be constructed is one of medical modernity, where the doctor desires absolute hegemony and nothing can interfere with her world. The medical profession is fundamentally about power and has no place for any power that it cannot explain.

The skill of Kilpatrick’s prose in this story can be seen by her ability to alternate between the descriptive sterility of the hospital and the colourful livelihood attributed to the Romanian village that Nita comes from – the rich mythological stories full of dark gods and betrayed love and the richness of the colours of the mountains themselves (though the predominant colour is the blood red that seems to infuse every aspect of this traditional landscape).

Kilpatrick’s love of intelligent, conflicted characters can be seen in the construction of Nita, a woman who is fundamentally brighter than the medical doctors and psychiatrists who seek to control and limit her. She is infused with a darkness, a burning guilt that the medical profession, with its cold logic and inability to see past its own viewpoint, cannot approach. Kilpatrick reminds her readers that an open mind is needed when approaching every issue and that limiting oneself to one’s own perspective only denies the depth and reality of a situation.

While reading The Vechi Barbat, the reader can feel the white, dead walls of the institution closing in on him or her, suffocating any creativity and anything the medical profession cannot control. The reader shares in Nita’s frustrated helplessness, denied voice and power until Kilpatrick releases them at the end of her story, with a reminder that the only escape from psychiatric control may be the danse macabre with death himself.

Nancy Kilpatrick’s short story collection Vampyric Variations (in which you can find The Vechi Barbat) will be released in October 2012 by Edge. To read more about it, go to http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/vampyricvariations/vv-catalog.html . To read more about Nancy Kilpatrick, explore her website at http://www.sff.net/people/nancyk/  and enjoy my interview of Ms. Kilpatrick later this week on Speculating Canada.