An interview with Nick Rayner about The Tandem Region Times

An interview with Nick Rayner, Editor of the fictional newspaper The Tandem Region Times
By Derek Newman-Stille

Nick Rayner is in the process of creating a fictional, online horror-themed newspaper about an invented region called The Tandem Region. He is currently inviting participants in this project, which seeks to combine themes from horror and journalism, mixing reality with a fictional world. The Tandem Region Times is set in a fictional Canadian small town, giving writers the opportunity to create a terrifying world within our own. In our interview, Rayner outlines his current project and the motivations and characteristics that shaped it.

You can find out more about The Tandem Region Times project at http://www.tandemregiontimes.com/ . They are currently seeking submissions, so check out their requirements.

Spec Can: To start our interview, could you tell readers a little bit about yourself and your background?

Nick Rayner: I’m a 26 year old who currently works in the advertising industry, mainly graphic design and content marketing. I currently live in Kingston, Ontario, but while living in Toronto I dabbled in self-publishing. I went to school for marketing, and before that I was in school for culinary arts. I’m at a point in my life where I describe myself as a “storyteller,” which is a cool way to say “I haven’t put in the gruelling hours to be a published Canadian author yet, but I’m cocky enough to do a project like Tandem Region Times.”

Spec Can: Could you tell readers a little bit about your current project, The Tandem Region Times?

Nick Rayner: The Tandem Region Times is an online, horror-themed newspaper about a fictional Ontario municipality called Tandem Region.It’s composed of 4 towns called Laughing’s End, Hatchet Hill, Spinning Head, and Museum City. The area also shares a dimensional schism with another reality which houses 4 similar towns, except they are populated by impossible creatures and are governed by completely alien physics and rules. The newspaper publishes stories from both realities, both in the same format, but with The Other Place being the highly experimental arm of this.

I’ve always been fascinated with internet horror, especially the stuff that isn’t really attributed to any author. Same with the images you find floating around forums and image boards. It occurred to me that the main reason these stories stuck with me was because of the lack of detail and poetry and a lot of the conventions most reputable magazines love. It’s like urban legends; they play loose with the characters and it’s more about the core narrative and making it seem like it could happen to you. There’s a mimetic quality to them as they’re passed around and altered slightly.

Spec Can: What inspired your interest in creating a fictional, horror-based newspaper?

Nick Rayner:   I was working as a reporter around the time when my friend and co-editor Johnnie Alward said “we should do a fake horror newspaper.” That’s our Act 1. We’d worked on scripts and projects in the past and this was our way to take the reins and try something new.

The “news report” format to telling a story really appealed to me since it put the “concept” centre stage.  I left the newspaper I was working at but the idea sounded like there was no ceiling; we could expand this thing as big as we want, and it’s completely dependent on the stories we receive. As we have more writers and different voices taking on these creepy events, we might see recurring characters and plotlines emerge, and we might see the geography of this world come into sharp relief. That’s what kept me going this whole time: the possibility, as an editor, to guide this world being created and see if patterns emerge.

Spec Can: I am struck by the potential of this paper to introduce readers to the exciting notion that horror and reality can mix and mingle a bit. What elements of the real world do you hope authors will bring into their horror editorials?

Nick Rayner: This is a very good question, and it’s one of the main questions that we’ve had to tackle with the paper. I said before there are no ceilings, so now I’m going to admit we do have SOME limitations. For example, there’s currently a lot of news about the elections in Quebec: are we going to have that sort of “ripped from the headlines” stuff in the paper? Maybe people want to write about the NSA, does that have a place here? Tesla Motors? And the answer is “sort of.” It’s a weird little small-town paper, so we’re not going to get into Palestinian politics, but this is first and foremost a place for storytellers, so if you want to tackle the NSA, maybe the story is about government surveillance, and maybe there’s a way to frame that within a city hall.

And even though I say this now, talk to me in a few months and see if I’ve completely gone back on my word, because someone might send in a story that breaks all these rules and it’s amazing and we run it anyway.

One of the first stories we will run is one I wrote where there’s a fire at a dairy mill and 20 people were dead, but it becomes clear that the milk was leaking from a vat and drawing people into it, and once they were swallowed by it they burst into flames, meaning that this was using people as fuel somehow to create destruction. So if we’re running stories like that, I don’t want to be the guy who starts slamming doors on peoples’ concepts.

Spec Can: Your website mentions that you are hoping to attract both horror authors who want to try exploring journalistic writing and newspaper reporters who may want to try introducing a bit of fiction into their work. What are you hoping will result from this collaboration and experimentation with writing styles?

Nick Rayner: From my perspective, this thing lives and dies on whether or not we can get enough variety of voices, especially in the horror genre. In comedy, you can riff on things forever. The Onion will never run out of content. In something like this – and this is another big discussion myself and Johnnie had – the fear is that we will get repetitive. We want to keep the stories fresh, but how long until we’re doing Dracula 2000?

In a lot of writing circles, there’s a bit of elitism that you run into, and I think it’s because it’s such a grind to get recognition in the writing game, especially in Canada. I’ve always said that everyone is a storyteller, though. And everyone knows when they’re hearing a bad story.

If I say to you “I went to the store,” your immediate response is “…and?” Then I say “I got some milk.” Then you say “And?” “And I went home.” “So?” Everyone knows how to tell a story, and everyone knows when they’re hearing a bad or incomplete story. We are human beings and we love narratives. We can comfortably say that at this point it’s in our DNA.

If we can figure out a way to tap into that, and if we can figure out a way to engage the experiences of as many individuals as we can, that’s how you inject life into this stuff. That’s the grand experiment with this thing. I think a hard-news reporter telling a horror story and a creative writer doing a hard-news report can both blow my mind in different ways.

I love the format for this reason. A blank canvas spooks a lot of people, and it can be intimidating. I’ve always liked writing scripts because there are formatting limitations and certain rules you need to follow.

To give a sports metaphor that makes no sense and will make everyone hate me, imagine you have a ball and you’re bouncing it in a room. It’s a big open room and all you have is a floor. You need to give me a wall, or a net, or a pole, and suddenly you have a game. That’s why writing exercises are the most important thing you can do to become good. You need to add some challenge – some limitation – and that gets people’s minds working. So if it’s “tell me a story, make it scary, keep it 800 words or less and give away as much of the story as you can in the first paragraph,” it feels a bit like a game.

Spec Can: I would imagine that, much like a newspaper, you are hoping for a lot of visual material. What sort of visual art contributions are you hoping for?

Nick Rayner: This is completely dependent on the stuff we receive, but I can tell you what the dream is.

The dream is that we have artists, photographers, and graphic designers sending in whatever they would qualify as “scary.” The mantra for the project overall is “it can be scary, it can be creepy, it can be bizarre, it can even be humorous, but it needs to be interesting.” We might end up with a pile of photographs of creepy buildings, forests, people, and we find ways to fit them in, or we write stories about them. A previous writing project I did called “It’s Made Of Hells” (madeofhells.tumblr.com) was all about this. I looked at the huge stockpile of creepy images I had and write stories that explained them. That’s fun, that’s something a lot of people can do. I can’t say for sure that all these people will start sending us things right away, but that’s the dream.

Spec Can: What can the visual dimension add to this project?

Nick Rayner: If the goal is to tell stories, then the visual dimension offers up all sorts of opportunities. A written piece can stand on its own, a photograph can stand on its own, or maybe one inspires the other. We’re open to anything that triggers inspiration. If someone sent us in a weird podcast, we would find a way to work that in. If someone has a collection of photos of weird food they’ve cooked and they want to run a cooking column about cooking things they found in a swamp that only appears every other month, that’s amazing, tell me more.

Spec Can: In what way do you hope that The Tandem Region Times will expand and change the nature of Canadian horror fiction?

Nick Rayner: It’s about creating opportunities. I think a lot of Canadian writers end up going the independent route simply because there’s not a lot of agents, there’s not a lot of publishers, there’s not the same market that you see in the US or the UK. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to make the Tandem Region a Canadian area, and not just a nondescript place.

It’s a buyer’s market out there for writers, and that’s why magazines/publishers can be so picky. That’s just what happens when there is an abundance of a resource. If the “problem” is there’s too many writers and not enough publishers, why don’t we find a new-media solution for this? Let’s just get as far away from the old business model as we can. Let’s figure out a way to give as many people a platform as possible, have enough editorial oversight to keep it consistent and ensure quality control, and build this thing where people know they can find great stories and writers can develop their skills. And get paid, once we work out the advertising situation.

Spec Can: I have to say that I really enjoy the notion of inserting a bit of fictional horror into a newspaper format since newspapers often contain so much real horror. I like the idea of playing with the nature of “real”. What inspired you to create a work of fiction that plays with notions of reality?

Nick Rayner: It’s the reality that makes things truly terrifying, and it’s the fuzziness of it that sticks with people. That’s the difference between a demonic possession movie where a bunch of random wacky stuff happens, and a movie like Black Christmas. You can tell when some humanity has been put into the bones of the thing, cause at some point someone thought “what truly scares me?”

Anyone can watch a show where someone gets shot in the face and blood goes everywhere. But if you stumble across a YouTube video of someone doing it, there’s some switch that gets flicked in your brain. It doesn’t look exactly like it should; the human body does unexpected things when it dies. Like I mentioned before, that’s why urban legends work. “It could happen to you.” One of the tips we give on the site is “don’t tell us a story about a recently divorced woman who is scared for her children because it’s raining blood. Just tell us it was raining blood and put us in that world.”

It’s interesting, though: you ask that question and it really does make a case for how the sensationalism of news is essentially telling horror stories, isn’t it? “It could happen to you.” Prejudice is built on this, fear is instilled with this sort of thinking, maybe that’s the social commentary that will emerge over time. That’s above my paygrade. Let the muckity mucks on Parliament Hill sort that out, I’ve got 2 days till retirement.

Spec Can: Is there anything further you would like to add to our interview?

Nick Rayner: I’d just like to thank you for asking me these questions and I hope all the tangents I went on serviced the answer to the questions asked.

 

I want to thank Nick Rayner for these new insights about this interesting Online collection. There is something very exciting about mixing news (a format for the horrors of reality) with horror fiction. I look forward to seeing what this project develops into and I hope that others are inspired to contribute materials.

Remember, you can check out The Tandem Region Times project at http://www.tandemregiontimes.com/ .

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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.

Shattered Glass

A review of Michael Rowe’s Wild Fell (ChiZine Publications, 2013)

Cover photo of Wild Fell courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo of Wild Fell courtesy of ChiZine Publications


By Derek Newman-Stille

Our worlds are shaped by memory, by our own histories and those of the people and places around us. Memory haunts the pages of Michael Rowe’s Wild Fell, and so does the loss of memory.

Jamie’s life has been shaped by memory and loss. His father is gradually losing his memory to Alzheimer’s, and, after a car accident, Jamie lost his own memory, and, particularly his own childhood, to brain damage. He is left in an uncertain place, a strange place between what he knows to be true and what he can’t trust in himself. He is left in a haunted space.

Ghost stories are dark reflections of our dreams about the past, our anxieties, our worries, and the things that we repress, and, from an early age when Jamie looked into his mirror, he could see a dark reflection of himself, a haunted presence from within, a friend within the mirror who haunted him and pushed him toward change. As a child, Jamie had created a friend to deal with loneliness, Mirror Pal, but over time she gradually started to take on a life of her own, shaping herself in his image and taking on an identity of her own as Amanda. She would speak through the young boy’s voice, shaping his throat into her words and trying to shape him into her own image by pushing him gradually to make decisions that she would make. His Mirror Pal made him her own dark reflection.

Small towns are haunted places, shaped by their own history and the gossip that permeates them, and Jamie is pulled toward the small Northern Ontario town of Alvina by this mirrored friend from the past. She leads him to a new home, abandoned to history and myth: Wild Fell. Jamie is led to this new (though ancient) home through a combination of losses – his father, his memory, his marriage, and his job. He seeks to create a new place of belonging… in a place that resists newness, an ancient house in the middle of an abandoned lake outside of a small town.

Wild Fell itself stands as a dark, ancient character, standing ominously on the precipice of history and evoking a timeless quality and the haunted potential of abandoned historical houses. It literally refuses to age, seeming to await its owner as though still occupied, as though its inhabitants are merely on a temporary vacation and will return at any moment. It is a place of returns.

We like to think of ourselves as having all of the power when buying a house – making it ours. But what if we are claimed by our houses? What if they chose us? What if ownership in turn owns us? We are terminal beings and our houses can outlast us – is it any wonder that they begin to accumulate memories, myths, and murmurs of the otherworldly? We are haunted by histories we are not part of – foreign terrains of the past that invite investigation.

In Wild Fell, Rowe reminds us that we create reality through memory, construct it out of flashes of neurons… and that reality can change as our memories change. Nothing is fixed, nothing static, but all shiftings of sleep sand and illusions. Wild Fell serves as a dark reminder that everything about our identity is changeable – gender, identity, personality, and desire. Our bodies and spirits interact in complex ways, and nothing about ourselves is stationary. Rowe explores the way we can change with changes in our memories, exploring the relationship between abuse and forgetting – memories that are erased due to trauma that re-surface late like an island in the centre of a dark lake. Wild Fell is made timeless by the abuse within its walls, the haunting return of the repressed – the shattered glass of our mirrored, reflected selves.

To explore some of Michael Rowe’s other work, you can explore his website at http://www.michaelrowe.com/ .

To get your own copy of Wild Fell, check out the ChiZine Publications website at http://chizinepub.com/ .

Bullying, Bodies, and Baddies

A Review of Timothy Carter’s Evil? (Flux, 2009)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Fitting perfectly with the current interest in the bullying phenomenon and finding ways to stop bullying, Timothy Carter’s Teen Fiction novel Evil? features a queer-oriented teen growing up in a small town in Northern Canada. His town is highly Christian and even teens in this town admonish people for “taking the Lord’s name in vain”.

Stuart is a teen who is unsure of his religious beliefs, feeling excluded from certain aspects of Christianity because of his queer orientation. He does what anyone who wants to find out the truth about religion does… he consults with the source, a reliable figure…. a demon. In his ritual patterns, Stuart weaves a spell requiring the demon to speak only the truth and asks him questions about Christian belief. He finds out that despite what others suggest, there is nothing evil about homosexuality: “God doesn’t care who you kiss” (30). As an outsider, this demon who hates him and only wants free is one of the closest things that Stuart has to a friend… the other is the local priest who similarly explains that homosexuality is not a sin.

Timothy Carter disrupts the notion of the small town as a haven and location of rural safety when he illustrates what can happen in a small town to a queer teen. Although Stuart’s mother moved to the small town to keep his family safe from the dangers of urban regions, Stuart finds himself without friends and fundamentally abject (made an outsider) – his classmates will use homophobic comments with the words “no offense” as a means of disarming the implied hatred their words embody.

Eventually, Stuart faces mob violence, but, oddly enough it is not for his homosexuality, but because he is caught masturbating in the shower. The town begins a religious crusade against the crime of “spilling”, the Sin of Onan. He is subjected to bullying by schoolmates, teachers, humiliated publically and the victim of violence. Surprised that masturbation is the thing that causes religious mob violence against him instead of his homosexuality, Stuart starts to inquire about the motivation for hate crimes and discovers that a supernatural being is behind the sudden surge in hatred. It is only through gathering together a small band of outsiders, a priest, a demon, and a general attitude of acceptance that Stuart can begin to fight the tide of evil that has submerged his town.

Although masturbation is used by Timothy Carter as the vehicle for discussing issues of violence against social outsiders, and although he attributes a supernatural cause to the bullying, he is pointing to an overall issue of violence in the schools against students who are treated as social outcasts: queer-identified students, racialised students, students of diverse backgrounds and beliefs. Carter brings our attention to the wider issues of violence that occurs in the schools and how embedded it is in our behaviours. He uses the supernatural as a mechanism for pointing out the absurdity of the bullying phenomenon and the need for real social change to prevent the issues the underlay bullying.

Evil? displays Timothy Carter’s incredible sense of humour while dealing with deep issues like the entrenched nature of homophobia, body shame, fear of sexual expression, and bullying. It is a fundamentally deep teen fiction book that calls the reader to question the origin of ideas of hatred and their impact on teen lives. It asks the reader to question everything and to determine their own belief systems. Carter expresses the importance of teens deciding their own truths and finding their own path.

Despite the religious questions evoked by the story, ultimately it has a pro-Christian, or at least pro-belief-in-something-like-the-Christian-God message. Despite not wanting to be like biased, dogmatic Christians, Stuart is forced to engage in questions of faith and debate about whether he is being dogmatic in his own rejection of the notion of a higher power. Despite the religious message, as a non-Christian reading this book, I found it entertaining, hilarious, and great at asking tough questions.

Author photo courtesy of Timothy Carter

This book would be an excellent one to suggest to a teen struggling with questions of identity, religion, bullying, or concerns about the body. It would be a great addition to a school or public library so that teens can peruse it in privacy if they are worried about attracting attention from bullies.  Adult readers will find this book interesting for the depth of the story, the questions it evokes, the development of the characters, and the general humour that animates the text.

You can find out more about Timothy Carter at http://timothycarterworld.com/ and read more about Evil? and his other novels.