Spectres of Homophobia

Review of Michael Rowe’s Ghosts (Postscripts to Darkness 2014, http://pstdarkness.com/2014/08/08/ghosts-by-michael-rowe/ )

Photo of the painting that was used for the cover for Michael Rowe's "Ghosts", courtesy of Postscripts to Darkness. Painting by Derek Newman-Stille

Photo of the painting that was used for the cover for Michael Rowe’s “Ghosts”, courtesy of Postscripts to Darkness. Painting by Derek Newman-Stille

LGBTQ2 populations are haunted by the spectre of violence. Our lives are inscribed with threat and many of us have been victims of multiple violent attacks. Stories like that of Matthew Shepard who was beaten and left to die in a field by homophobic groups haunt queer experience, even, in that case, entering into the artistic world and songs like Melissa Etheridge’s “Scarecrow”.

This experience of feeling haunted by the spectre of violence, of having one’s life marked by the potential of being the victim of homophobic attack marks the lives of LGBTQ2 people. Perhaps that is why it is so refreshing to see Michael Rowe’s story “Ghosts”, where in addition to queer populations being haunted by the spectre of violence, those who have allowed that violence and created a culture of permitting it are haunted by the ghosts of loss and regret.

“Ghosts” is a tale about a brother who hated his younger brother for being gay, seeing his brother’s homosexuality as a threat to his own masculinity and reputation. When friends of Robert, spurred on by his own homophobia beat his little brother Scott to death, Robert comes to realize the loss he has experienced and the absence left in his life at the loss of his brother. The pain is his to experience as someone who permitted anti-gay violence to occur. Robert sees the spectral presence of his younger brother everywhere, his life marked perpetually by what he allowed to occur.

Rowe’s story is so refreshing because it facilitates the idea that a life lost through homophobic violence is a loss for all of society, not just for the LGBTQ2 population and the loss should be sharpest and most haunting for those who let that violence occur, who stand by and do nothing, or who spur on that violence even if they are not directly perpetrating it.

Rowe reminds us that we, as a society, are haunted by the spectre of homophobic violence and that it should not be just LGBTQ2 populations that feel this loss and feel the presence of those killed or harmed by violence, but rather all of us as a society.

This is a painfully beautiful story about family, homophonic violence, and loss.

You can read this story online on Postscripts to Darkness’s website at http://pstdarkness.com/2014/08/08/ghosts-by-michael-rowe/

To find out more about the work of Michael Rowe, you can visit his website at http://www.michaelrowe.com

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Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 13: An Interview with Sean Moreland

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I interview Ottawa author, editor, and academic Dr. Sean Moreland. Dr. Moreland teaches various courses at Ottawa University, including courses on horror. He is also one of the co-editors of Postscripts to Darkness (which you can explore at http://pstdarkness.com/). He has published short fiction in several collections of speculative fiction such as Pavor Nocturnus: Dark Fiction Anthology, and Allusions of Innocence.

Dr. Moreland and I discuss teaching speculative fiction, illustrating horror, notions of the “literary” and exclusions of genre fiction from the literary, the ability for horror to push boundaries, horror as a mechanism for exploring and experimenting with identity, epics and nation building… and in addition to the more intellectual materials, we also talk about heavy metal themed spec fic, Kaiju and other giant monsters, revisiting horrific themes from youth and youth as a formative theme for ideas of horror… Needless to say, there is at least a week worth of conversation built into this one, short programme.

For this, the thirteenth episode, things get spooky.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

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

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support.

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

Interview with Sean Moreland

An interview with Sean Moreland by Derek Newman-Stille

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

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

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

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

Cover Photo of Postscripts to Darkness Courtesy of the Editors.

Cover Photo of Postscripts to Darkness Courtesy of the Editors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover for Postscripts to Darkness 3 courtesy of the editors

Cover for Postscripts to Darkness 3 courtesy of the editors

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

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

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

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

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

Upcoming interview with Sean Moreland on Wednesday February 12th

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

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

Cover for Postscripts to Darkness 3 courtesy of the editors

Cover for Postscripts to Darkness 3 courtesy of the editors

Here are a few teasers from our upcoming interview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pstd2cover

 

Ticks of a Deathwatch Beetle

A review of Postscripts to Darkness 3, Edited by Sean Moreland and Aalya Ahmad (Ex Hubris Imprints, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover for Postscripts to Darkness 3 courtesy of the editors

Cover for Postscripts to Darkness 3 courtesy of the editors

This will be the third Postscripts to Darkness volume that I have reviewed, and it is the best so far. The quality of the writing and artwork is even more impressive than the first two volumes. The stories in Postscripts continue to show their willingness to interrogate the dark, to go to places where other narratives shy away from. Along with monsters, conjurings, altered perceptions, gruesome creations, and horrifying deaths, Postscripts is willing to cast its dark light upon issues like alcoholism, drug addiction, family violence, incest, the death penalty, and other areas that are relegated to the dark or ignored because mainstream society doesn’t want to deal with them or finds them unsavory. Postscripts casts a particularly enlightening form of darkness upon the vision of those who seek to avoid the realities that serve as an undercurrent to their reality, and this particular flavour of horror is well suited for casting readers into a darkness they resist dealing with in their everyday lives.

It plays with conflicted spaces, situating stories like Michael Kelly’s “Absolution”, where loneliness is motivation and a fear that inspires acts to get rid of the feeling of being alone, beside stories like Alyssa Cooper’s “The Drawer” where the protagonist will go to great lengths to ensure her loneliness, to hold onto her own space and protect it from intrusion and violation. Narratives play and war with each other, pushing the reader into deeper and more provocative questions, calling for them to quickly shift perspectives and occupy a different mental space from one story to the next. The shortness of these stories, and the close proximity of diverse and conflicting narratives contributes to the sense of dislocation that good horror should inspire.

Postscritpts to Darkness 3 brings together a collection of short stories that act like ticks of a Deathwatch Beetle, tiny moments of horrification that pull us out from the comforts of reality and one step closer to the darkness of oblivion where we can really ponder our complacency and complicate it.

To find out more about Postscripts to Darkness 3, visit their website at http://pstdarkness.com/ . If you missed my review of Postscripts to Darkness 1 and 2, you can see them here:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/10/28/macabre-marginalia/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/little-tremours-of-the-weird-to-shake-up-the-mundane/

Illustrating Speculative Fiction

An Editorial By Derek Newman-Stille

"Persephone" by Derek Newman-Stille. http://dereknewmanstille.ca/works.php

“Persephone” by Derek Newman-Stille. http://dereknewmanstille.ca/works.php

As an artist, I have always been fascinated with the art that accompanies Speculative Fiction novels. So many readers focus on the cover art when making their decision about which books to read, and often the author has little or no say about which art is attached to their book.

The art of a book is often the first thing that a reader encounters when picking up a book. They see it as they open the cover and it shapes (in sometimes subtle and sometimes significant ways) their experience of the book and what they read.

Various articles keep popping up in my Facebook feed about gender and SF, and particularly the gendering of book covers and how this influences which books for teens are considered “boy books” and which are considered “girl books”.  I gave a paper about 7 years ago on the role of cover art in sexualising books of urban ‘dark’ fiction, particularly the use of cover art that largely focuses on representations of parts of women’s bodies, and what this suggests about the bodily focus of these paranormal novels. The art of book covers can significantly shape the experience of the book, and yet, it is often something that is disconnected in many ways from the author’s experience of creating a book. There is not a back and forth conversation between visual artist and author, but rather a mediated conversation between publisher and artist that only occasionally (and in limited ways) involves the artist. Book covers often follow marketing trends and interests rather than the desires of the author or their focus.

As an artist, I often wonder what processes artists go through to create their cover illustrations. For some, I wonder if they have read the book at all (since the cover is often so dissociated from the plot and general feel of the book).

"Cosmic" by Derek Newman-Stille, http://dereknewmanstille.ca/works.php

“Cosmic” by Derek Newman-Stille, http://dereknewmanstille.ca/works.php

I was recently asked to do an illustration for a Canadian SF volume, and had to go through the process of figuring out how I would approach it. I can’t reveal details yet until the book is closer to publication. I had to consider how I would approach illustration and how I would both include my own stylistic trends (which were what attracted the publisher) while also making sure to capture the significance of the story and its general feeling. I read through the story I had been given to illustrate several times, feeling through the general experience of it, waiting for certain ideas and images to surface. I jotted down these images – writing text about dominant ideas that surfaced and sketching the various images that bubbled up through my brain as I read. I noticed that my creative mind was having a conversation with the text of the story, responding to the words I was seeing and sending back images that I then checked against the overall experience of the story.

My art work is complicated and difficult to define with a singular paradigm or easy categorisation, but I tend to approach my work through the feeling that various experiences evoke. When painting natural scenes, I try to capture the conversation that is happening between the environment I am seeing and my own feelings. I watch the land and then close my eyes and see how the land changes as I imbue it with myself, with my feelings.  Similarly, when I am trying to capture a theme or idea, I pull the images that filter through my mind out and pour them through my brush (or pencil or pen) into the canvas (or paper), letting ideas flow with feelings. I often capture images that obsess me, a particular curve of a branch or the way snow has drifted, but don’t try to confine them, rather letting them participate in the art, filter through myself as the artist. In a similar way, I approached illustrating a short story as a conversation between the story and myself as an artist, exploring the sensations that it drew up through me: Rorschach patterns, the play of light and dark, hooded figures, conflict, the image of the fist. The story was complex, and I wanted to bring that complexity through into my art, creating a representation that captured the feel of the work rather than a snippet of the action. I wanted my work to explore the complexity that the story represented, the weirdness of it.

Painting a story is a process of estrangement, entering a world created by the author and feeling yourself dissolve into it as ideas and thoughts surface. It is a meeting between artist and text, the strange terrain betwixt one person and another. It was an incredible experience and one that I would like to participate in again at some point.

"Smoke and Shadows" by Derek Newman-Stille, http://dereknewmanstille.ca/works.php

“Smoke and Shadows” by Derek Newman-Stille, http://dereknewmanstille.ca/works.php

I would love to see more conversations between various art fields – writing inspired by a painting, stories inspired by songs, drama adapted from poems, dance inspired by novels. I am fascinated by intertextual communications, when one type of artistic text speaks to another.

You will be able to see my art work in the upcoming volume of Postscripts to Darkness 4, and I will post further details closer to the release date. You can find out more about Postscripts to Darkness at http://pstdarkness.wordpress.com/

My artistic work tends to be speculative in nature, so readers of Speculating Canada might be interested in it. You can check out my artist page at http://dereknewmanstille.ca/ . Click on Artwork to see some of my paintings.