Mojo Disabled

A review of Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine (Grand Central Publishing, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille06a88f39f94401a3f86871d46c3bf5f5

There is a beauty in complexity, an ethereal quality to the display of Otherness and the richness of diversity. Sister Mine evokes the complexity of reality, the beatuty and power evoked by the richness of the human experience. Nalo Hopkinson’s characters are diverse in cultural background, ability, and engagement with the body, as well as multifaceted in their engagement with the magical, the mythical, and the otherworldly.

Sister Mine is rich with characters who often are cast to the fringes, to the Other Worlds within our world, and it is appropriate that she sees these characters as full of potential, as full of the Otherworld, the complexly spiritual. Conjoined twins, people with mobility disabilities, characters of diverse ages, sexualities, psychologies, economic backgrounds, and ethnicities are pulled into the novel in unique ways as she gives voice to those who are often rendered voiceless in a society that is focused on normativity and de-voicing those who don’t fit into its narrow definition of normalcy. Hopkinson evokes the complex engagement between identity and the body, diverse ways of knowing ourselves and how we relate to our physicality – our world and the physical parameters of our bodies.

Makeda, born a conjoined twin with her sister Abby, the “crippled deity half breed” of a human and a celestial deity that is evocative of the vodoun Loa, has always craved the mojo that her sister possesses. Undergoing surgery to separate their bodies, Abby ended up with something that Makeda felt she lacked, a certain spiritual power and ability to render her power into the world in the form of her singing voice. Makeda is called the “donkey” of the relationship by her celestial family, seemingly without any power that would render her other than human. She feels herself incomplete, less than her sister and merely a vessel that carried her sister who others seem to view as superior to herself. Physically separated, she feels tied to her sister intimately, unable to find herself and her identity as something different from her family (a place that she feels has been made clear to her by her family’s rejection of her). She leaves her sister’s house in an attempt to make her way in the human “claypicken” world, as one of them since she feels that she has more in common with a humanity without mojo than with celestials whose mojo can at times make her feel disoriented and woozy.

Yet, even among a humanity that she feels she can relate to bodily, there is still distance. She is still the child of a father who is a deity (though transformed by his fellow deities into a human being that now is experiencing Alzheimer’s) and a mother who was transformed into a sea monster and has been distanced from her from birth… and she still receives regular visits from an uncle who is death personified and a family of deities that feel that they can interfere with her life because she is family and less than them because she doesn’t have any of the mojo of a celestial. Out of place everywhere she goes, Makeda is able to see more than others, notice things that others would disengage with in their attempt to render things ‘normal’ according to their own status quo and predictable patterns of behaviour. She is a body seeking identity and discovering that nothing about identity is certain or fixed, but rather exists in a flux and flow of changeability that doesn’t entirely relate to her bodily ontology. She is caught in a system where others feel that they can change things for the good of those whom they believe are less than themselves, and sees that intentions based in superiority are often built on shaky ground.

To discover more about the work of Nalo Hopkinson, visit her website at http://nalohopkinson.com/ .

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Slippery Landscapes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Brush With Mythical Madness

A review of Ursula Pflug’s The Alphabet Stones (Blue Denim Press, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of The Alphabet Stones courtesy of Ursula Pflug

Cover photo of The Alphabet Stones courtesy of Ursula Pflug

Ursula Pflug writes The Alphabet Stones with a mixture of rural Ontario accent and a transcendent poetic quality. Her work glitters with the cadences of rural ontario while evoking a deeply poetic quality and beauty of phrasing.

The Alphabet Stones is a voyage of self discovery and delving into the blurry lines between myth and memory, the haunting quality that the past has on the present. Jody is a girl who was raised on a commune with a mother who has been committed to an asylum. The land around the commune and her experiences with others have written themselves deeply into her memory, shaped her into who she is but her memories are suspect, questioned, and shaped by an air of myth.

Pflug does an incredible job of exploring the dream-like quality of memory – shifting, changing, and uncertain. But, the memories she explores are literally tinged by the mythic, the unbelievable, and the supernormal. Jody and her friends have had contact with the otherwordly through a mythic place where stones are written with words and images that evoke a world beyond our own, and she has been touched by an element of the fey.

Jody is a youth invested with the qualities of old age – she is wise beyond her years and is steeped in a deep nostalgia that often only permeates those later in life – she misses things from her past, feels cut off from her places of origins, and senses that things have fundamentally changed while pining the fact that things will never be the same. She is defined by an inescapable sense of loss.

Ursula Pflug wends her story with twining threads of strangeness and loss, the alienating quality of the past. It is fantasy on the cusp of madness, with characters debating the reality of their experiences and the extent to which delusion may have permeated their lives.

Her characters prefer to believe that the otherworld is just stress or delusion. It is easier and safer for them to think that the world itself is knowable rather than subject to an uncanny quality, a place infinitely more complex than they can grasp or understand. Pflug doesn’t try to create easy answers in her novel, providing for her readers the same sense of dislocation that is invested in her characters. She allows the readers to truly feel what it is like to stand on the cliff between reality and the mythic, madness and ideas of normalcy.

To discover more about Ursula Pflug, visit her website at http://ursulapflug.ca/ .

Characters in Books Become Real in the Otherworld

A Review of Charles de Lint’s Spirits in the Wires
By Derek Newman-Stille

In his Spirits in the Wires, Charles de Lint expresses something that I have wished to be true since I was a child: that the characters that we read in books become real through our collective imagination. De Lint’s Otherworld and the In-Between, standing between our world and the Otherworld is made up of the spirits and beings of myth, legend, and religion in addition to discarded parts of the human imagination and manifestations of belief. Within this realm are fairies, manitou, gnomes, dwarves, characters from novels that human beings have read, and even the discarded shadow of the self (the part of ourselves that we cast off as we develop ideas about what we want ourselves to be and what we don’t).  There is something absolutely comforting about the idea that your belief in the characters you read about in books makes them manifest and real in another realm – that warm feeling that by reading about them, you are sustaining these characters, feeding them with imagination and that there are hundreds of lives inside of you being created and maintained by your love of literature.

Spirits in the Wires focusses around a wide group of characters both human and otherworldly, including a woman who was created by a website as a way of learning about the world outside of the web, and the discarded shadow self of an author and preserver of urban myth. The internet itself has become a place that creates spirits from the imaginings of human beings, creating worlds between the wires, between computer systems. De Lint focusses on the Wordwood, an internet site that has been featured in several of de Lint’s books that was a repository for books and information which eventually gained sentience through the volume of stories running through it. The hodgepodge of stories, myths, and tales running through the Wordwood had a capacity to breathe life into it, grant it consciousness and personality as well as magic, which courses through the site.

Charles de Lint has often described the place of magic as a place in-between, to the corner, at the edge, and the internet is a logical place of magic, existing between computers in an ether of signals and wires. He disrupts the binary that often separates the magical from the technological, creating a story where the two interact, reinforce each other, and in doing so creates a new mythology for the cyber age.

Despite their separation from the human experience, there is something fundamentally human about the spirits that de Lint creates. They are figures in constant identity crises, trying to find out who they are and how their pasts have been formative in creating them. Saskia is a woman who suddenly appears with no tangible background, knowing things only as facts and not as direct experience. She is a creation of the Wordwood site, and has to face whether she is a simulacrum of humanity or if there is something intrinsically her about her existence. She is simultaneously self and stranger on the cusp between knowing herself and finding every experience new and challenging to her identity. Christianna, the discarded shadow self of urban fantasy author Christy, cast away in his youth, is forced to come to terms with her identity as a distinct being, trying to find herself while surrounded by the baggage of being a cast-off, abandoned. She explores whether there is something about her that is separate from Christy and whether there is value in her own existence. Even characters from books who have gained sentience and lives of their own separate from the novel that created them have identity issues, experiencing a grudge toward the authorial parents that created them from their imaginations. De Lint questions the nature of personhood and asks readers to look at whether origin is as significant in identity formation as we tend to think – whether we are created from the discarded parts of another person, manifest through a website’s desire to experience the world, a character from someone else’s imagination does that origin define us, or are we defined by what we do after we are conceived of?

De Lint asks the fundamental question that underlies a great deal of human experience: who am I? And, as a good author does, he doesn’t provide readers with an answer, but allows them to ponder what defined us, how we create ourselves, and what creates identity.

Spirits in the Wires is a novel about identity and self discovery, and particularly the power of a community to help in the process of identity development. Characters in this novel help each other to discover what is fundamentally separate and unique about them, and characters find some keys to their identity (though not an answer to this question that cannot be answered) in the process of a mythic quest. He reminds us that it often takes those around us to show us that we are unique and that we are fundamentally different from the primordial ooze that manifested us.

You can explore more about Charles de Lint and Spirits in the Wires at http://www.sfsite.com/charlesdelint/

Interview with Kelley Armstrong

An Interview with Kelley Armstrong by Derek Newman-Stille

Photo of Kelley Armstrong (centre) with Ellen Bentzen (left) and Derek Newman-Stille (right) at a lecture at Peter Gzowski College, Trent University.

Kelley Armstrong was the first Canadian author of the fantastic that I found and enjoyed. A few years ago, I was able to have Ms. Armstrong visit Trent University to be an author in residence for Trent’s Champlain College and Gzowski College. It was an incredible experience for our students and an amazing experience for myself. I want to thank her for this opportunity to do an interview.

Kelley Armstrong is the author of the Otherworld series and the Nadia Stafford Series.

Spec Can: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself to begin the interview?

Kelley Armstrong: I’m the author of the “Women of the Otherworld” paranormal suspense series and “Darkest Powers/Darkness Rising” young adult urban fantasy series, as well as the Nadia Stafford crime series.  I grew up in Southwestern Ontario and I still live there with my family.

Spec Can: One of the things that really impresses me about your work is your ability to get into the psychology of the monster and really understand what feelings and hopes they have. Do you feel that your background in psychology helps you to explore the minds of your characters?

Kelley Armstrong: I like to think it helps me with character development.  If I want a character to turn out a certain way, I can come up with a back-story to explain her personality.  Likewise I can start with a life experience and decide how it could affect a character.

Spec Can: What aspects of your Canadian identity have influenced your authorship?

Kelley Armstrong: It makes it easier to do Canadian characters and settings [smiles] 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.

Spec Can: What is different about Canadian stories of the supernatural from those of other nations?

Kelley Armstrong: There are differences in the 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.

Spec Can: What teaching role can speculative fiction have?

Kelley Armstrong: 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.

Spec Can:  What challenges and opportunities did you have when beginning to expand your writing interests into YA / Teen Fiction?

Kelley Armstrong: I’d had an idea for a YA novel for a while (arising from the plot of Stolen) But I didn’t feel ready to tackle a teen narrator until my own daughter was old enough to help me with establishing the voice. Few things are uglier in YA than getting the point of view of a “teen” from an author who obviously hasn’t been a teen in a very long time! That was the biggest challenge. The biggest opportunity was the chance to write for a whole different market, which included my own children.

Spec Can: What were the key differences in writing characters for YA than for adult fiction?

Kelley Armstrong: While I cover a lot of narrator ages in my adult series, teens are much different.  There’s the dialogue of course—making the characters sound like teens.  But when I’m writing adults, whether they’re 25 or 45, they’re dealing with a similar set of issues (jobs, finances, marriage & children). Teens are at a different place in their lives, and the characters need to reflect that.  They also have a limited set of tools for dealing with problems.  If I have an adult character on the run, they can empty their bank accounts, get fake ID, hop on a plane and rent a hiding place.  Fifteen-year-olds can’t.

Spec Can:  What drew you to write about the supernatural?

Kelley Armstrong: I’ve been fascinated by the paranormal since I was a child.  I blame it on too many Saturday mornings watching Scooby-Doo.  By now, I have no idea why I’m so attracted to it—I just know that I love writing in this genre.

Spec Can:  What myths of the monstrous and magical do you draw on when you write?

Kelley Armstrong: I cherry-pick from as much existing folklore as I can find, to create creatures that best suits my vision, always looking at which traits would make the most logical sense if such creatures really did exist undetected in contemporary society.

Spec Can: What is distinct or different about the supernatural characters you create?

Kelley Armstrong: Nothing is uniquely my own.  Where I deviate from the more common myth (like needing silver bullets to kill werewolves) I make those decisions based on what I consider most plausible.  If werewolves needed silver bullets to die, what happens when they’re involved in what should be life-ending situations, like being run over by a transport truck?  Do they just get up and walk away?  Wouldn’t someone notice?  For me, in the world I created, it made more sense if they could be killed by any means a human can be killed. But there’s plenty of folklore where werewolves can be killed by any means, so I’m not distinct there. I’m just selecting a less common trait.

Spec Can: What werewolf myths do you create and how are they different than the werewolves of other authors?

Kelley Armstrong: The most common werewolf in the twentieth century was the “man-killing beast,” some guy who changes into an ape-like or bear-like creature every full moon and ravages the countryside killing everything in sight.  That’s scary, as monsters go, but it doesn’t really explain why such a creature is a werewolf.  Wolves avoid humans.  Wolf attacks on humans are extremely rare. I chose the portrayal that re-asserted the “wolf” in “werewolf.”  Variations on it have been done many times, so it’s nothing new.

Spec Can: Where do you think Canadian supernatural fiction is heading from here?

Kelley Armstrong: I don’t think it’s 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.

Spec Can: What is the role of “Otherness” and the figure of the outsider in your work?

Kelley Armstrong: Well, the series is called “The Otherworld.” [Smiles] That’s a common term for a supernatural subculture within a contemporary society. It emphasizes the otherness of the people there. They form their own culture, based on that which makes them different from others.

Spec Can: What is the role of gender in your Otherworld series?

Kelley Armstrong: My goal is to let it play as small a role as possible. Of course characters are male or female, and shaped by that, but otherwise, as characters, they are equal—just as likely to be strong or weak, good or bad, intelligent and capable… or not.

Spec Can: Your character Elena is the only female werewolf in the world of the Otherworld. What significance was there in creating a single female werewolf? What issues did you want to explore by focusing on her femininity?

Kelley Armstrong: In a lot of the folklore, werewolves are male. This seems to arise from the use of werewolves to explain brutal behavior by people—they did it because they’re really part beast. Women represent a small percentage of serial killers and mass murderers (and, if they are responsible for multiple deaths, they usually use less bloody methods, like poisoning). So most werewolves in folklore are male. That made it easy for me to postulate a male-line genetic basis for it, and therefore have a single female, then explore what it would be like to be a woman in that very male-dominated world.

Spec Can: What is the role of characters hiding themselves and ‘passing’ as human?

Kelley Armstrong: My characters struggle with the same problems as everyone else–family, romance, career, friends.  While it’s fun to create a vampire rock star, it takes a fantastical being and puts him in a “fantasy” lifestyle.  Readers can relate better to supernaturals who are programmers, lawyers, journalists, professors etc.  It’s also possible to create a world where everyone knows about the supernaturals, but that opened up problems and scenarios that didn’t really interest me. I was more interested in the identity issue of hiding one’s true self rather than the issues of fitting into society when you are openly different.

Spec Can: Even though your characters are supernatural, they reveal a lot about the natural and the human experience. What is the role of the supernatural for revealing things about human beings and society?

Kelley Armstrong: 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.

Spec Can: Do your characters ever take you to places that you didn’t intend to go? Do they take on personalities of their own?

Kelley Armstrong: I’ve had several characters that didn’t turn out the way I envisioned them in the plotting stage, usually minor characters.  One was Zoe, the vampire thief in Broken.  I’d originally pictured her as a possible romantic interest for my bachelor werewolf, Nick.  Their personalities would have gone well together.  Except that once she came alive on the page, she was a lesbian…which was a bit of an obstacle to my matchmaking plans [Smiles]

Spec Can: What is the role of race and ethnicity in your work?

Kelley Armstrong: My work is more concerned with supernatural race—how does being a witch or a sorcerer impact your life, how do you deal with those prejudices and expectations. Otherwise, it’s like sexuality. The characters are what they are, as they appear to me when I create them. They aren’t homogenously white and heterosexual, but I’m not checking off boxes either, to make sure I’m accurately representing modern society. In these books, it’s the supernatural type representation that’s more important for the stories I’m telling.

Spec Can: What is the virtue of creating characters outside of the mainstream?

Kelley Armstrong: They’re more interesting! [Smiles] You can explore different types of situations and explore them in unique ways. Of course, it’s also interesting to take a mainstream character and put them into those “outside of mainstream” situations, but I’ve found that my readership responds better to the outsiders.

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

Kelley Armstrong: I hope they enjoyed it. That’s really all any writer can hope for—that a book did what it was supposed to and entertained them.

Spec Can: Several of your characters express a desire to learn about themselves and the feeling of not belonging. What makes characters who feel that they don’t belong so interesting?

Kelley Armstrong: I think it’s an issue that many readers deal with themselves. Most people feel that they are different from the mainstream in some way, which I think just means that mainstream is a far more narrow category than mass media would have us believe. Even the simple act of fiction reading isn’t often depicted in mainstream media—how often do characters seem to sit down with a book. Even if they do, it’s usually literary or “book club” not genre.

Spec Can: Your book Bitten has been picked up as a television series. How involved will you be in the writing process?

Kelley Armstrong: They’ve been keeping me informed and asking my opinion on various matters, but I’m well aware that this is their version of my story rather than a televised copy of it.

Spec Can: What makes supernatural characters so interesting to today’s audience?

Kelley Armstrong: They allow us to stretch our imaginations and ask “what if” beyond our normal reality–what if we could change into wolves, what if we could speak to the dead?  With supernatural fiction, it’s less of a stretch than traditional fantasy because we’re dealing with concepts most of us already understand (werewolves, vampires, ghosts)

Spec Can: What is the most challenging thing about writing the supernatural?

Kelley Armstrong: I used to say the world-building, because that’s a huge part of the work. It’s fun, but it is a challenge. Now, though, I’d say that an equally big challenge is standing out in a crowded market. In a way, that’s tougher. With world-building, I’m in control. I just need to do the work. I can’t control the market, though.

Spec Can: What was it like to be an author in residence at Trent University? Is there anything that you want to share about the experience with other authors?

Kelley Armstrong: I loved it! I always enjoy the chance to speak to young writers, and this was the

Photo of Kelley Armstrong with Jess Grover at Trent University’s Alumni House.

perfect opportunity. Everyone was wonderful and eager to learn, and that made it a very positive experience that I won’t forget.

Spec Can: What new projects are you currently working on? What new and exiting things should we be looking for from you over the next few years?

Kelley Armstrong: I’ve sold a new adult trilogy that has some supernatural elements, but is more mystery. The first book, Omens, comes out in October 2013. I’m also trying my hand at middle grade, having just sold a Norse-myth-based trilogy that’ll be co-written with Melissa Marr. Both will start in 2013.

You can find out more about Kelley Armstrong at her website http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com/ . You can read some of her free online fiction at http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com/free-online-fiction/

 I want to thank Kelley Armstrong for taking the time to do this interview and for letting readers know about her current projects. It has been a pleasure to talk to her again.

Upcoming Interview with Kelley Armstrong Wednesday October 17, 2012.

As part of Werewolf Wednesdays, this coming Wednesday October 17, 2012, I will be interviewing Kelley Armstrong, author of several werewolf novels including Bitten, and Stolen. Kelley Armstrong gave a guest lecture in one of the courses I taught at Trent University: Werewolves As Symbols of the Human Experience, and it has been amazing to get back in touch with her and talk about her experiences as a writer as well as share her insights on werewolves and the supernatural, Teen Fiction, myth-building, and character creation with readers.

Here are a few highlights from the interview:

Kelley Armstrong: Speculative fiction helps expand the world of possibilities.

Kelley Armstrong: 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.

Kelley Armstrong: While I cover a lot of narrator ages in my adult series, teens are much different.  There’s the dialogue of course—making the characters sound like teens.  But when I’m writing adults, whether they’re 25 or 45, they’re dealing with a similar set of issues (jobs, finances, marriage & children). Teens are at a different place in their lives, and the characters need to reflect that.  They also have a limited set of tools for dealing with problems.

Kelley Armstrong: I’ve been fascinated by the paranormal since I was a child.  I blame it on too many Saturday mornings watching Scooby-Doo.

Kelley Armstrong: Where I deviate from the more common myth (like needing silver bullets to kill werewolves) I make those decisions based on what I consider most plausible.  If werewolves needed silver bullets to die, what happens when they’re involved in what should be life-ending situations, like being run over by a transport truck?

Kelley Armstrong: Wolves avoid humans.  Wolf attacks on humans are extremely rare. I chose the portrayal that re-asserted the “wolf” in “werewolf.”

Kelley Armstrong: The series is called “The Otherworld.” That’s a common term for a supernatural subculture within a contemporary society. It emphasizes the otherness of the people there. They form their own culture, based on that which makes them different from others.

Kelley Armstrong: In a lot of the folklore, werewolves are male. This seems to arise from the use of werewolves to explain brutal behaviour by people—they did it because they’re really part beast. Women represent a small percentage of serial killers and mass murderers (and, if they are responsible for multiple deaths, they usually use less bloody methods, like poisoning).

Kelley Armstrong: While it’s fun to create a vampire rock star, it takes a fantastical being and puts him in a “fantasy” lifestyle.  Readers can relate better to supernaturals who are programmers, lawyers, journalists, professors etc. I was more interested in the identity issue of hiding one’s true self rather than the issues of fitting into society when you are openly different.

Check out the interview with Kelley Armstrong on Speculating Canada this Wednesday  October 17th and find out about her new projects. Kelley is the author of the Women of the Otherworld series, the Darkest Powers/Darkness Rising young adult series, and the Nadia Staffordcrime series. 

Photo of Kelley Armstrong at Sadleir House, Peterborough, Ontario.

McCloud’s School for Supernatural Youngsters

A Review of Kelley Armstrong’s The Gathering (Doubleday Canada, 2012)

By Derek Newman-Stille

The Gathering, the first book of Kelley Armstrong’s Young Adult/Teen Fiction Darkness Rising trilogy is set in the same world as her Otherworld series. The supernatural is real, but hidden in this world, kept secret by the members of the supernatural races that inhabit it. In The Gathering, Armstrong focuses on a teenage girl named Maya who was orphaned at birth and is being raised in a small town on Vancouver Island that is centred around a medical research facility. All of the families in the town are forced to sign confidentiality agreements and leaving the town can be problematic and nearly impossible.

As an adopted child, Maya is curious about her roots and how her past has shaped her identity. She knows that she is half aboriginal and half white, but is unsure of which aboriginal nation she belongs to. Her adopted mother, a Haida woman, has been trying to give her access to aspects of Haida identity.  But, Maya suspects there is more to her identity, and things become more complicated when she tries to get a tattoo to emphasize her cat’s paw birthmark and is called a witch by the tattoo artist’s aunt because of the mark. Her curiosity is further aroused when a stranger shows up in town asking all of the children questions. Maya and her compatriots begin a quest to find out who they are and what brought them together that opens doorways into cabals, secret genetic research, the mystical, and the murderous. The children, like most kids, are left in a world of uncertainty, unsure who to trust and unsure whether the ‘truths’ they have used to guide their lives have any validity. This novel is a traditional YA search for identity story with a supernatural flavour as her characters challenge their beliefs about themselves and the nature of their reality.

Armstrong creates a quick-paced read that leaves the reader feeling like they are running through the forests of British Columbia with her characters. The role of the forest and the presence of animals is felt strongly in this novel and Armstrong does a good job of capturing the battle between the instinctual and the intellectual among characters caught on the fringe of the human and the animal. She captures the joy of animal existence as well as the threat embodied in it and the fear and uncertainty in human-animal interactions.

Armstrong leaves her readers on edge, waiting for the next book in the series.

To find out more about Kelley Armstrong’s current projects, visit her website at http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com/