Here Be Monsters

Here Be MonstersA review of Michal Wojcik’s “A New Bestiary” in Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories edited by Kelsi Morris and Kaitlin Tremblay (Exile, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Michal Wojcik’s “A New Bestiary” is a posthuman tale about body modification. In this near future fiction piece, Mojcik presents a world where people are remaking themselves into monsters as a way to claim a new, non-human identity for themselves. Ranging from Centaurs to Satyrs to Merpeople to Cyclopes, these monsters are not merely evincing biological change, they are building new, resistant identities. 

However, these identities surpass medical modification and the changing of the biological start to change the world, shifting the world to a new space of monsters, a new cartography and vision for the functioning of the world. Islands begin to appear in the ocean that hadn’t existed before and the world seems to be altering itself to medieval settings in a form of vast restoration. Bodies are no longer scarred through their transformations and medical modifications, but are reborn as monsters. The medical is undone and replaced by the miraculous.

Wojcik offers a transhuman tale that questions the idea of the simple boundaries of human existence, inviting the reader to imagine the role of the monster as the ultimate outsider to challenge the simple boundaries policing human definition.

Wojcik’s narrator, Melanie, originally biologically modifies herself as a way of speaking back against resistant classifications and to gain confidence. She embraces a chimera image of assembled animal and insect parts, not wanting to limit herself to existing monster imagery, but instead to construct a new identity. But her identity isn’t just a challenge for others, it is an internalized question, an invitation for her to redefine herself and her place in a world that values normalcy even when there are possibilities for transhuman bodies. 

Wojcik’s “A New Bestiary” collides against normativity in our world, inviting us to reimagine our world and rankle at our restrictions. This is a story of home that asks how we define “home” and “belonging”. 

To discover more about Those Who Make Us, visit https://thosewhomakeus.wordpress.com

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What is Means to Be An Outsider

A review of Kate Story’s “Am I Not A Proud Outlier” in Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound (Laksa Media Group, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

In a hive, dance is crucial. Dance is the way that decisions are made, but dance is also a way of expressing dissent. Kate Story’s “Am I Not A Proud Outlier” is a tale of a space hive with typical bee like characteristics. This hive is moving from planet to planet, and colonizing as they move, but something has gone wrong in the hive. A space that is supposed to be unified has become disrupted and violence has broken out between different factions leaving a Queen without support. This hive has a caste system like most bee hives do, with certain members specialized to fulfill certain roles like building, nursing, and cleaning. But, this hive also has a role that is meant to present alternatives, the Outlier caste, a small group of isolated people who bring up ideas and perspectives that the harmony of the hive hasn’t considered. They are built to be contrarians and to be introverts.

Outlier 31’s role is to resist that sense of security and safety that comes with belonging, to counter the uniformity of the rest of the hive to open up questions about the status quo and challenge unilateral thinking. In Outlier 31, Kate Story creates the quintessential image of the artist. She points out that the role of the artist is to live in a state of intellectual curiosity and uncertainty, always willing to push boundaries into alternatives that others may not think of. She reminds the audience that art has an important role to disrupt easy answers and ask new, more potent questions. But, perhaps more importantly, Story connects art to the act of care-giving, the focus of the “Sum of Us” anthology, pointing out that artists provide an important caring role in their acts of critical questioning. 

Outlier 31 thinks of words that have not been used before, brining the power of language to the task of re-assessing meaning in her hive, she dances histories that the hive prefers to keep secret in their desire to present one unified historical narrative. Outlier 31 is an essential part of a community, but is forever kept separate from it. Yet, things change in times of crisis. Outlier 31 must simultaneously take on care-giving roles (roles that are suited for other members of the hive like the Nurses), changing her fundamental make-up, while still being true to her need to be contrarian. 

To find out more about the work of Kate Story, visit http://www.katestory.com

To discover more about Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound, visit http://laksamedia.com/the-sum-of-us-an-anthology-for-a-cause-2

Behind the Wallpaper of the World

A review of Michelle Barker’s The Beggar King (Thistledown Press, 2013)

cover photo of The Beggar King courtesy of the author

cover photo of The Beggar King courtesy of the author


By Derek Newman-Stille

In The Beggar King, Michelle Barker explores the potential of the fantasy medium for creating a deep coming-of-age story. Jordan is a boy on the cusp of adulthood and in his society youths his age normally receive a talent, a gift that will help them to determine their career – either they are good at firing arrows, have an aptitude for prophesy, or some other gift that will allow them to chose a career path. But, Jordon’s gift hasn’t appeared yet. He has an ability to leap from building to building, and a skill at stealing from the marketplace, but what he really wants is a clear talent and an uncomplicated path to the future. But things keep getting more complicated for him.

Jordan encounters the dark figure from his culture’s mythology, the Beggar King, a being who uses undermagic, a forbidden type of magic that has been locked away because it could only be used for evil purposes and tended to turn on those who used it. Shortly after he first sees this dark figure, his community is invaded by the Brinnians, people who not only don’t respect his people’s traditions, but actively engage in activities that would be considered sacrilegious – hanging dead bodies from their sacred tree, killing sacred deer, and burning their sacred book.

When these invaders threaten to kill his mother, Jordan is told by friends and the Beggar King that he should consider opening the door to the undermagic that has been locked away in order to use its power to free his people.  Jordan is caught between a feeling that it is his cultural and religious duty to rid his community of invaders who engage in sacrilege and his knowledge that if he opens the door to the undermagic, he may be engaging in a sacrilege greater than any that these invaders could bring. Jordan discovers that he is one of the few who has the power to open the door to the undermagic – he has been given the gift to retreat outside of the world and disappear, he is the only one who can cross the Bridge of No Return that only the Beggar King can cross, and he has already opened the door to the undermagic a tiny crack…. he is uniquely positioned to either be the saviour of his people or bring about their downfall, and both friends and the Beggar King are playing on his desire to be exceptional, to prove himself, and to have a place in society by encouraging him to make a name for himself by opening the door to the undermagic. He discovers that some doors open for us, and some doors open within us.

This is a book about the in-between, that place that teens occupy as they search for identity as adults while rejecting their childhood identity. The in-between nature of this book stretches out into the position of Jordan as a person who is between the living and the dead when he crosses behind “the wallpaper of the world” to disappear as well as being the person who can open the doorway to the undermagic. He walks in those in-between places, hopping from rooftop to rooftop as he travels, and when he gains the power to become invisible, in the world between the places of our world and the underworld. But, the Holy City of Cir is itself a place betwixt and between – it is an island that can only be reached by bridges, and each bridge can only be crossed at certain times, with certain thoughts and behaviours – each bridge requires the individual to be in a certain mindset before it allows him or her to cross, whether that mindset is mischievous, meditative, or another frame of mind. When it becomes invaded, the Holy City of Cir becomes further liminal, being a place both of the Cirrans and the competing cultural influence of the invading Brinnians. It has become a city in the midst of a clash between traditional religion and the new capitalist imperialism brought by the Brinnians. Jordan is also in a morally liminal place, pulled in different moral directions and stuck with uncertainty about magic and undermagic because of the presence of these moral and cultural Others.

The Beggar King reinforces this ambiguity, being both a figure that is in inside and outside of the world, appearing on its fringes, but unable to appear to everyone (only to those suited to open the gateway to the undermagic). Even the term Beggar King is liminal, positioning him between poverty and wealth. Before attaining the power of undermagic, the Beggar King was a sin eater, a scapegoat for his culture who had to eat food that was filled with the sins of the households he begged from.

Using these liminal characteristics, Barker suffuses her world with the inherent contradictions that come with youth and the transition to adulthood – the uneasiness and questions that come with transformation and change. Although early in the narrative, prophets see Jordan as a ‘little boy wearing too-big shoes’, his encounters with other aspects of the fringes, other betwixt and between spaces, helps him to grow into those shoes and face an uneasy destiny rather than the one of ease and fame which he would have chosen. He discovers that one never knows the full picture and that when one acts unilaterally, even when he thinks it is the best thing for his community, he brings greater trouble to them. Only by accepting his role as a member of a greater community and recognising the diversity of skills and strengths within the people around him can he gain a complete understanding of the situation that faces him and take actions that are in support of others rather than in service to his own desire to be famous. By observing the emperor who has conquered his territory as well as his own choices, he comes to understand that arrogance is one of the greatest forms of ignorance.

To discover more about Michelle Barker’s work, visit her website at http://michellebarker.ca/ . To pick up a copy of The Beggar King, visit  Thistledown Press at http://www.thistledownpress.com/index.cfm .

Interview with Michael Rowe

An interview with Michael Rowe by Derek Newman-Stille

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Rowe: There’s a great deal written about the “otherness” and the “monster” within when it comes to horror, but I also think that’s germane to good literature everywhere. I think what horror and indeed most speculative fiction does is enable the writer to shift and bend the boundaries of the narrative to reveal more texture and subtext about otherness and the outsider experience. But in and of itself, much of horror is often about bad things happening to ordinary people, which, by definition, negates the notion of any intrinsic “otherness” unless the story is being told from the perspective of an entity that is extraordinary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover photo of Enter, Night, courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo of Enter, Night, courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Michael Rowe: Repression and suppression do two things: they isolate, and they create monsters. The isolation weakens the victim and makes them vulnerable, and hides any number of horrors behind a façade of propriety. Repression also bottles up rage and God knows what else which, when unleashed, is often devastating. You could write reams about the parallels between the way society makes monsters, and the way it makes monsters out of those who are already vulnerable and marginalized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover photo of Wild Fell courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo of Wild Fell courtesy of ChiZine Publications

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Rowe: The best horror fiction is excellent, enduring literature, and shares qualities with other excellent, enduring literature. What horror allows both the reader and the writer to do is to explore both darkness and redemption by staring both in the face and naming them for what they are.  When the narrative boundaries are as flexible and permeable as they are in horror fiction, the ways to tell those stories, to examine the human condition, increases exponentially. When done right, it’s art. When it’s done badly, it’s as bad as any bad fiction, maybe even slightly worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upcoming Interview with Michael Rowe on Wednesday, December 18th

I have been a fan of Michael Rowe’s work for some time, and was really pleased that he was willing to take some time to do an interview with me so shortly after the publication of his recent novel Wild Fell. Rowe is an accomplished journalist and horror author.

Check out our upcoming interview on Wednesday, December 18th

In our upcoming interview, Michael Rowe discusses the switch from non-fiction to fiction writing, the power of horror, the use of ordinary people in horror, small town culture, the history of residential schools in Canada, the impact of social repression,  the issue with the use of LGBTQ characters for shock value, homophobia in horror, LGBTQ2 literature, the tremendous appeal of ghost stories, changes in the figure of the vampire over time, horror and loss, and the gothic potential of the Northern landscape.

Here are a few highlights from our interview:

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

Michael Rowe: “I think what horror and indeed most speculative fiction does is enable the writer to shift and bend the boundaries of the narrative to reveal more texture and subtext about otherness and the outsider experience.”

Michael Rowe: “Much of horror is often about bad things happening to ordinary people, which, by definition, negates the notion of any intrinsic “otherness” unless the story is being told from the perspective of an entity that is extraordinary.”

Michael Rowe: Everything happens in small towns. I was and am entranced at the way the currents and counter-currents that bind people in small towns can be both beautiful and horrifying.”

Michael Rowe: “The metaphors just write themselves. That’s what vampires do. They drain you of blood and turn you into something else.”

Michael Rowe: “The residential school system in Canada, run by churches, is a stain on our national identity that shames me, on a deep level, as a Canadian. The collusion between the churches and the Canadian government that yielded that system is the very definition of vampirism to me.”

Michael Rowe: “Repression and suppression do two things: they isolate, and they create monsters. The isolation weakens the victim and makes them vulnerable, and hides any number of horrors behind a façade of propriety. Repression also bottles up rage and God knows what else which, when unleashed, is often devastating. You could write reams about the parallels between the way society makes monsters, and the way it makes monsters out of those who are already vulnerable and marginalized.”

Michael Rowe: The notion of the vampire as a gothic lover has never really resonated with me, and that appears to still be the dominant current image. I like my vampires terrifying, and only seductive in the service of his vampirism, like Christopher Lee at the top of the winding stone staircase in Horror of Dracula.

Michael Rowe: “Queer Fear was the first-ever gay horror anthology. We didn’t want it to be erotica, we wanted it to be horror stories where LGBTQ identity was a given, not something injected for shock value.”

Michael Rowe: “So many of us started life as observers and outsiders, not necessarily in the mainstream.  I know that informs a lot of my own work.”

Michael Rowe: “I think many people would like to believe the sprits of the dead could haunt them, but actually don’t believe it. Ghost stories are that marvellous spaces in between, where readers can enjoy the thrill of seeing in happen to someone else without paying the price themselves.”

Michael Rowe: “What horror allows both the reader and the writer to do is to explore both darkness and redemption by staring both in the face and naming them for what they are. When the narrative boundaries are as flexible and permeable as they are in horror fiction, the ways to tell those stories, to examine the human condition, increases exponentially.”

Michael Rowe: “Forced loss informs a great deal of my fiction—loss of innocence, loss of sanity, loss of beloved friends and relatives, loss of lovers.”

Tune in on Wednesday, December 18th to read out interview. If you haven’t yet had a chance to read Mr. Rowe’s work, you can check out his website at http://www.michaelrowe.com/ . If you have a chance, you can check out reviews of some of Mr. Rowe’s novels at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/shattered-glass/ and https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/postcolonial-vampirism-consuming-resources/

Enjoy some delightful winter chills.

The Power of Horror to Teach

This week I wrote a guest post for Susan MacGregor’s Suzenyms over at http://suzenyms.blogspot.ca/2013/10/teaching-little-monsters-guest-post-by.html about the power of horror to teach us. Here are a couple of teasers to get you excited to check it out.

“Horror can be a way of illustrating social exclusions – showing who is left out when we think of ideas of ‘the normal’. Outsiders become monsters…and monsters become outsiders, and we define ourselves in opposition to these outsiders saying, ‘We are this, because we aren’t that.'”

Photo by: Melody E. McIntyre Modified by: Derek Newman-Stille

Photo by: Melody E. McIntyre
Modified by: Derek Newman-Stille

“Horror makes us look into the dark places that our society doesn’t want to go.”

“When we look into the corners in which we cast our outsiders, we can see the things that we ignore, the issues that we pretend don’t exist, and question why we create certain ideas or people as outsiders.”

“The complications of horror, its willingness to blur boundaries, tear apart comforts, and make us face things that we don’t want to see, contain a pedagogical potential. When horror unsettles us, it places us in an area of question – a desire to interrogate why we feel so much about a certain situation, why we are uncomfortable.  Our fears make us recoil from things…but that also makes us pause for a moment.”

“Horror exposes society’s silences because it refuses to be quiet.”

“Horror illustrates what the dominant groups in our society consider frightening, and that is often the things that they exclude, the ways that they push people to the fringes because of their otherness, their uncomfortable nature.”

“There is a value in putting ourselves into the position of the monster, the villain, and examining their perceptions, the things that create them. Horror turns our world upside down, makes it strange, threatening, unsafe… and in that topsy turvy world of haunting visions and shaky ground, we can ask questions about things that are not always asked, we can ask those uncomfortable, strange, threatening, unsafe questions that we may not be able to ask when we are trying hard to be normal, to fit into social ideas and to perform.”

“The monster breaks through social barriers (and the pages of our novels or our television screens) and bites us, infecting us with its otherness, its strangeness and then asks, “Am I so strange?”, “Why am I so strange?”, and “What makes you unstrange?” Once bitten, we change, we shift, we transform. That transformative process is part of powerful learning.”

Check out the full discussion on the teaching power of horror on Susan MacGregor’s Suzenyms at http://suzenyms.blogspot.ca/2013/10/teaching-little-monsters-guest-post-by.html.

Blind Vision Quest

A Review of Douglas Smith’s The Wolf at the End of the World (Forthcoming)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo for The Wolf at the End of the World courtesy of Douglas Smith

Cover photo for The Wolf at the End of the World courtesy of Douglas Smith

The Wolf at the End of the World is a tale that would resonate with the spirit of any environmentalist – the struggle of diverse species to survive, the conflict with human greed and capitalism, the invasiveness of the human presence on animal life, and also the potential for a shift in human consciousness toward a connection with the animal world, an acknowledgement of our dependency on our environment and eco diversity. As he often does, Douglas wields myth as a tool for pedagogy, much like myth-tellers have been doing throughout history. He taps into that vital essence of the story to reveal truths that we ignore in our mundane world and teaches complexity through the poetics of language and potentials of symbols.

Smith’s work, as always, is full of potent ambiguities, the moral questions that fill us with the potential to interrogate our world and challenge the assumptions that have become part of living our lives. He does this through beautiful prose and an exciting and powerful story. Smith tackles issues of huge importance for our understanding of modernity such as the relationship of the human to our environment, the power of greed, the emptiness that comes from loneliness, the danger of secrecy (particularly government initiated secrets), ideas of ability and disability, the relationship of indigenous people to the state, and the general issue of bodily and identity difference. He recognises that accepting difference is a complex process, even for the person who is fundamentally ostracised and cast socially as different.

The Wolf at the End of the World is a text of loss and hunger, the pining for that which is missing, absent, taken away, or desired, and Smith embodies this in the figure of the Windigo, a being from Indigenous cosmologies that is the embodiment of hunger with a heart of ice, an insatiable appetite. It is the perfect symbol of modernity, with all of our greed, our loneliness, our desire for something we have lost or not yet obtained… it reminds us of our absences. The Windigo, despite being the villain in this novel, becomes a form of teacher, espousing a pedagogy about the dangers of desire, the dangers of creating a heart of ice and always wanting and losing ourselves to greed as a way of trying to fill the spot in ourselves that has become empty (or icy) because of our feeling of loss. The Windigo is a great expression of the modern condition.

In contrast to the Windigo are the Heroka, figures who are shape-shifters, able to speak to and connect on a spiritual level to animals, and a boy, Zach, who is sorting through his difference – as a blind person, as someone who is half Cree and who does not know about his father. His mother, who is Cree, has been running from her heritage, trying to ignore her past, and she fears her son’s difference, and also the secrets that she has kept from him about his father’s heritage and the potential differences that are inherent in it. But, Zach’s differences are his strengths, things that have shaped him and he is put into the position of accepting his differences and becoming even further different from the socially-defined norms or of passing as “normal” and missing something of himself.

Ancient gods reenact mythic roles, renewing and changing the world around them to play out what it means to be human and what it means to be spirit and animal. Trickster spirits play with human lives, challenging them to change, learn, and grow, and to question everything they have been taught and the world that has shaped them. The reader is carried along on this mythic tale, taught the potential of stories to challenge us and make us more aware.

To find out more about Douglas Smith and The Wolf at the End of the World, visit his website at http://www.smithwriter.com/the_wolf_at_the_end_of_the_world . This novel will be coming out soon and you can link through the website above to pre-order a copy.