Upcoming Radio Discussion with Sandra Kasturi and Ian Rogers Tuesday June 25th at 5:00 on Trent Radio

Yesterday, I was in the studio at Trent Radio having a discussion with Sandra Kasturi and Ian Rogers, which will be aired on Tuesday June 25th at 5:00. You can check out our discussion at 92.7 FM in the broadcast range or if you are outside the broadcast range, you can visit Trent Radio online at http://www.trentradio.ca, where it will be live streamed if you click on “LISTEN: OGG & MP3 Streams”.

Ian Rogers and Sandra Kasturi in the studio at Trent Radio

Ian Rogers and Sandra Kasturi in the studio at Trent Radio

Hear us discuss dark, weird fiction, the power of smaller Canadian presses, SF cover art, fears, mythology, ChiZine Publications, the blurring of genre boundaries, SF poetry, and the ability of fiction to “weird” reality enough that we look at it from a new perspective. Oh, and for those of you in Peterborough, we also talk a bit about how Peterborough is the ideal place for getting ideas for creepy horror novels.

Sandra Kasturi is the co-owner of ChiZine Publications, editor of “Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing”, and author of two books of poetry: “The Animal Bridegroom” and “Come Late to the Love of Birds”, both published by Tightrope Books. To find out more about her and read some of her poetry, visit http://sandrakasturi.com/ .

Ian Rogers is the local Peterborough author of a collection of dark fiction called “Every House Is Haunted” from ChiZine Publications and “SuperNOIRtural Tales”, a collection of supernatural detective stories,from Burning Effigy Press. To find out more about Ian Rogers visit http://www.ian-rogers.com/.

Thanks are well deserved for the assistance of Trent Radio, Alissa Paxton for her tech skills, John Muir and Kathleen Adamson for finding us a place in the broadcast schedule, and, of course to Sandra Kasturi and Ian Rogers for coming in to the studio for this discussion. Thank you also to Brett Savory and Kathryn Verhulst-Rogers for contributing to an amazing conversation.

Interview with Holly Bennett

An interview with Holly Bennett by Derek Newman-Stille

It is always exciting to meet an author who lives in the same town as I do, so I was really pleased to come across Holly Bennett’s name when I was searching for new authors on Kobo, and then to find out that she also lives in Peterborough. I was very pleased that she was willing to do an interview here on Speculating Canada. If you have an interest in Teen Fiction, music, Peterborough, the role of fantasy writing to open up new ideas, ghosts, character development, or myth, I think you will enjoy hearing Holly Bennett’s insights.

HollyBennett-13944_2

Author photo courtesy of Holly Bennett

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

Holly Bennett: Oh dear. I’m sort of embarrassingly average, really. I grew up in Montreal, came to Peterborough to go to Trent, and turned into one of those Trent alumni who stay — we are legion. I did live in Toronto for a while after graduating, but came back to Peterborough in search of a cheaper, saner lifestyle, mainly so we could afford to have kids.

Career-wise, I started out in non-profit work, doing research and program development with various Aboriginal organizations (my undergrad degree’s in Native Studies, and I studied Adult Education at OISE). Then a couple of years after moving back to Peterborough I lucked into a home-based job as an assistant editor at Today’s Parent. I loved the work, and discovered I am pretty damn good at it, and have made my living as an editor and non-fiction writer ever since.

I didn’t turn my hand to fiction until I was past 40. Don’t ask me why I waited so long, or what suddenly put it into my head to try. It seems like I transformed over the course of about a year from being sure I didn’t have the imagination to write fiction to being completely addicted to it.

Spec Can: Why is the supernatural so popular in Young Adult fiction at the moment? What is the appeal of the supernatural for teens?

Holly Bennett: I think it’s the same appeal as for adults, really. The supernatural — or let’s broaden that out to fantasy in general — it’s the appeal of what lurks at the edges of things, I suppose. The yearning for the expansive possibilities of the supernatural and the fear of its dark face are very primal, I think. It allows us to play with the idea, “What if the rules and constraints we think we operate under didn’t apply?”  At the same time, fantasy stories allow us to grapple with huge issues— questions of good and evil, oppression and freedom, terror and courage—in a kind of “safe” way. We know it’s not real, so that frees us to dive into things that might be too painful or threatening in ‘real life.’

I do think the ‘quest’ nature of many fantasy stories is very well-suited to this age group. It’s the mythic journey of the young adult, really. So it resonates with kids who are starting to imagine and test themselves as young adults.

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

Holly Bennett:  Well, publishers will tell you the main characters in YA must be young people themselves. I’ve broken that rule fairly often myself, and so have many others. I think it’s a rule that’s easier to break in the fantasy genre, but I do think you need to create characters that teens can identify with and/or think about how to draw them into the world you have created. Another way to look at it is, are your characters dealing with issues that teens can relate to? The classic mytho-fantasy themes are pretty ageless: readers of any age (if they like the genre) can relate to them, even if the character is older. But if that character is feeling bored and depressed by his retirement, or trying to come to terms with a marriage gone stale, then no, that’s not going to captivate many young readers.

For audiences of any age, the characters have to feel authentic, real, rounded. Teens aren’t drawn to cardboard stereotypes anymore than adults are.  What is often different is the pace of the writing. You don’t have a lot of room for descriptions of anything, including characters, so the characters have to unfold, to a large extent,  through their actions and the plot.

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

Holly Bennett: I’ve been especially drawn to the Irish Celtic myths — two of my novels are retelling/embellishments of old Irish stories that date back to the Iron Age, which I found really resonated richly for me. But I find I also borrow quite a bit from some of the spiritual ideas and practices I learned back in Native Studies at Trent — in the Warrior’s Daughter for example Luaine attends a kind of sweat lodge ceremony, and she also does a version of a dream fast. The Celts did have some kind of sauna or sweat lodge, and they did have the “bed of dreams” I described in the book, but we don’t have much knowledge about their ceremonies or practices. I drew on aboriginal ceremonies I’ve attended when imagining what actually happened.

Spec Can: What is the role of the outsider in your work? How do you bring ideas of diversity into your work?

Cover photo of Shapeshifter courtesy of Holly Bennett

Cover photo of Shapeshifter courtesy of Holly Bennett

Holly Bennett: It’s funny, I’ve never set out to write about outsiders but I see I very often do bring in characters who are “outside” in some way, and I seem to become quite attached to them too! Dirk, in The Bonemende, was my first outsider character, and he started out as a simple plot device. Then Gabrielle brought him home, and the second book was really spurred on by my need to explore his experience.

Outsiders do play a special role, don’t they? They bring a different perspective, a way of looking at the dominant culture and people that helps the readers see more complexity and shades of grey. In The Bonemender, the Greffaires are just “the bad guys” until we meet Dirk.

I think another form of the Outsider is the Outcast. That was a really dominant theme in Shapeshifter, where Sive is forced to leave not only her world but her human form. Thinking about the loneliness of that experience, the struggle to adapt and yet still hold on to who you are, was very moving for me. And there are so many real, contemporary human experiences that would be in some way like Sive’s. I think of the experience of refugees, of the homeless, so many others.

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?

Holly Bennett: Oh yes. I think this is my very favourite part of writing, and also sometimes the scariest. At a certain point, if you’ve really gotten to know your characters and developed them adequately, they do seem to take on a life of their own. And now you can’t just make them do what you want them to do; they have to do what they would do, given who you’ve turned them into.

This happened with my very first novel, The Bonemender. I looked down at my computer screen and saw that Féolan had just decided to travel over the mountains into Greffaire territory, and I had not planned that at all. My first thought was, “Oh crap. Now I have to come up with a whole new country, and a whole new subplot.” But it was absolutely the right thing, both for Féolan and in terms of keeping the story interesting.

I don’t mean to suggest that as a writer you end up at the mercy of your characters.  It’s more that as the characters develop and change, the story has to kind of adjust itself around them.

Spec Can: Your novel Redwing follows the lives of musicians. What role can music play  in literature? What appealed to you about writing about musicians?

Holly Bennett: Some of my favourite books are infused with music. Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier, is so full of music Tim O’Brien made an album of it.  It’s tricky, because music is not going to speak to everyone, especially described in print! But music can give a strong sensory, emotional context, and it can also evoke a certain culture, history or personality.

It’s amazing, really, that I haven’t written about musicians earlier, considering I’m the only one in my family who doesn’t play. At a certain period of our family life, it wasn’t unheard of to have four instruments going at once, and not together—from traditional Irish fiddle to black metal guitar. So it’s been an important backdrop to my life for a long time.

Spec Can: In Redwing the ghost of Rowan’s sister forms an ever present voice, preserving him from danger the same as she did while she was alive. How do ideas about ghosts and haunting add to the human experience? What do haunting narratives teach us?

Cover photo of Redwing courtesy of Holly Bennett

Cover photo of Redwing courtesy of Holly Bennett

Holly Bennett: I think we have a real yearning for ghosts, along with the fear. Somehow even people who firmly reject the notion of an afterlife are attracted to the thought that the people we love could still exist in some form, or even communicate with us. It’s a very seductive thought.

I think because of that shared desire — who hasn’t thought, “if only my Dad could see this” or “I wish I could talk to Grandma now”?— the idea of ghosts can seem more “possible” than some fantasy elements.  I’m attracted to these supernatural or fantasy elements that seem like they could be possible; we know there are many things about our natural world that we still don’t understand or perhaps even know about, so why couldn’t there be the Second Sight or a genetic mutation that enhances telepathy or a spirit energy that remains after death? To me, these ideas are more intriguing than magic swords or invisibility cloaks.

Spec Can: As a Peterborough author, how have you found this area as a place to create a writing community, and how has this place influenced your writing?

Holly Bennett: I confess I’m kind of a solitary writer. I tell myself from time to time that I should join a writing group, that it would be fun and make me a better writer, but the fact is I don’t like to share writing-in-progress. I just don’t.  I do have some people I consider my “writing buddies” and at least one of them is here in Peterborough but they tend to be scattered about.

However, I do believe living in Peterborough has helped me write. First, the thriving arts community here is simply encouraging — all kinds of people I know, of all ages, are making different kinds of art. Second, living here gives me more time and mental space to do the writing. Because we could live cheaper here, I was able to work four days a week instead of 100% full-time and that was a fantastic gift.

I want to thank Holly Bennett for being willing to share some of her insights here on Speculating Canada and hope that we get a chance to hear from her again. If you haven’t yet had a chance to explore Ms. Bennett’s work, you can check out her website at http://www.hollybennett.net/ . There is also a review of her novel Redwing on Speculating Canada at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/27/haunting-lullabies/

Upcoming interview with Holly Bennett on Wednesday, January 30th

Holly Bennett is a fantasy author living in the same city as I, Peterborough Ontario, and I was excited to find another author in the same area. She is primarily an author of Young Adult fiction, and it is great to get the perspective of a Canadian YA author since many of the authors I have interviewed write primarily adult fiction.

In a very typically Peterborough way, I first encountered Holly through her books and only later discovered that we knew many of the same people. Peterborough is one of those strange towns where even if you think you may not know someone, odds are that you have a connection to them – the perfect space to inspire fantasy writing because the unusual just seems to happen here.

In our upcoming interview on Wednesday January 30th, Holly Bennett discusses her transformation from being a non-fiction writer to suddenly developing the confidence to write fiction, the appeal of fantasy to our society, the difference in writing fantasy for teens versus fantasy for adults, the ability of fantasy to deal with social issues, the role of the mythic,  the power of music, hauntings from the past, and the strength of characters to wrestle the plot away from author and make their story their own.

Here are a few teasers from our upcoming interview:

Holly Bennett: “I didn’t turn my hand to fiction until I was past 40. Don’t ask me why I waited so long, or what suddenly put it into my head to try. It seems like I transformed over the course of about a year from being sure I didn’t have the imagination to write fiction to being completely addicted to it.”

Holly Bennett: “The yearning for the expansive possibilities of the supernatural and the fear of its dark face are very primal, I think. It allows us to play with the idea, ‘What if the rules and constraints we think we operate under didn’t apply?’”

Holly Bennett: “For audiences of any age, the characters have to feel authentic, real, rounded. Teens aren’t drawn to cardboard stereotypes anymore than adults are.”

Holly Bennett: “It’s funny, I’ve never set out to write about outsiders but I see I very often do bring in characters who are “outside” in some way, and I seem to become quite attached to them too!”

Holly Bennett: “Outsiders do play a special role, don’t they? They bring a different perspective, a way of looking at the dominant culture and people that helps the readers see more complexity and shades of grey.”

Holly Bennett: “At a certain point, if you’ve really gotten to know your characters and developed them adequately, they do seem to take on a life of their own. And now you can’t just make them do what you want them to do; they have to do what they would do, given who you’ve turned them into.”

Holly Bennett: “Music can give a strong sensory, emotional context, and it can also evoke a certain culture, history or personality.”

Holly Bennett: “I think we have a real yearning for ghosts, along with the fear.”

Check out Speculating Canada on Wednesday January 30 to see the full interview with Holly Bennett. You can check out my review of her book Redwing at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/27/haunting-lullabies/ if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet. You can also explore her website to find out more about her at http://www.hollybennett.net/ .

Upcoming Radio Interview With Ian Rogers

Trent Radio icon headphones 1This Saturday, January 26th, I will be posting an interview on Speculating Canada that I conducted with local Peterborough horror author Ian Rogers that I conducted on air at Trent Radio.

Mr. Rogers is the author of the supernatural noir Felix Renn series, weird westerns, and general horror literature. He has published novels such as SuperNOIRtural Tales, Deadstock, and Every House is Haunted. I conducted a previous written interview with Mr. Rogers on Speculating Canada at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/interview-with-ian-rogers/ that you can check out.

In our upcoming interview, Mr. Rogers and I discuss how local Peterborough events inspire his stories, the difference between the urban environment and the rural when it comes to inspiring him to write stories, the terror that can be embodied by the woods, haunting and place, and his own fears and how they inspire his written work.

Check out the audio file of our interview on Speculating Canada this Saturday, January 26th.

Performing the Monster

A Review of Ian Rogers’ Temporary Monsters (Burning Effigy Press, Toronto: 2009)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Peterborough author Ian Rogers’ Temporary Monsters is a novella about illusion and performance, the insubstantiality of life and the performativity of everyday existence.  Rogers sets his story of monstrosity amongst a performative group of people, actors and actresses, who need to be ‘on’ while on-screen and while off-screen. Every moment of the life of an actor is under public scrutiny, publically examined, and career-influencing, so fame brings with it a need to be constantly in the act of performance turning the world into a stage in which they perform their lives.

Many of the actors in Temporary Monsters take drugs to supplement their performance, remaking themselves for their audience and indulging in their own escapes from reality into a self-indulgent created reality of the mind – a performance of the psyche.

There is a performative quality to the monsters of this novella as Rogers’ protagonist detective Felix Renn discovers when the monsters he encounters begin reverting to humanity, only temporarily taking on the guise of the more-than-human. Even Renn’s personal life has a performative quality to it as he discovers that he and his ex wife (an actress, herself) are fixed in a role, playing tired old parts in a cinema of marriage. They realise that they are repeating old patterns, clichéd patterns of relationships, but they also can’t break out of these patterns, trapped in the performance.

Rogers explores the temporariness and insubstantiality of actor identity and uses his novella to illustrate the shallowness of elite society in the public eye. Readers are put into a position of examining themselves and society as a whole, looking at how we are often stuck in our own performative roles, repeating patterns that have almost become social archetypes that are inescapable.

This cinematic quality suffuses Temporary Monsters, and Rogers writes his novella with an awareness of the cinematic medium and with a writing style that focusses on dialogue and action with sparse descriptions of scenery or setting. This adds to the action of the novella, propelling the reader from one scene to the next with a level of excitement that makes it hard to put down the book.

This first book of his Felix Renn series about a world on the edge of darkness, straddling this reality and the Black Lands, a realm of the monstrous whose gates cut through our world like pins in a voodoo doll. It is at its core a supernatural series, but it is also a window into reality, with a very real hero who is not in a Joseph Campbellian hero role with an epic romance, but rather a detective who would very much prefer to be outside of the main action, a man who is not at the doorway to a relationship… but through the exit of it, looking over his shoulder with regret at the romance that has passed. The reality of this book and its universality in the human experience speaks to the talent of its author. Rogers plays with the unusual type of chemistry that exists following a relationship: the confusion of emotions, the mix of love and hate and regret, and that unusual something else that infuses the relationship of loss. Rogers is not interested in the build up of a romance, but in its decay and the awkward, confusing, chimerical mix that occurs when people are reassessing their relationship to each other and dealing with change.

Rogers’ first book in the Felix Renn series is fundamentally about change and impermanence and that makes it an exciting beginning to a new set of books. There is nothing predictable and the reader, like the characters, are placed on uncertain, shaky ground and feel the need to read through the book to have some sense of permanence to grasp onto at the end.

You can read more about Ian Rogers at http://www.ian-rogers.com/ . To get more information on Rogers’ world of The Black Lands, check out his site http://theblacklands.com/ , which contains a history of the Black Lands, background on the Paranormal Intelligence Agency, and a list of the Felix Renn books and short stories.