Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 3: An Interview with Greg Bechtel

As part of the Ontario leg of his tour for the collection Boundary Problems (Freehand Books), Edmonton author Greg Bechtel was able to swing by the Trent Radio studio to discuss his own work and some overall trends in Canadian Speculative Fiction.

In our interview we postulate that reality is a set of social conventions, a creation and that therefore speculative fiction is partaking in an overall realm of fictive subjects. We discuss the way that good realist fiction, like good SF, should complicate notions of reality and estrange us from taken for granted assumptions about “the way things are”.

Bechtel’s work blends and mixes the speculative and the realist in his collection Boundary Problems and this contributes to his overall sense that reality is a blend of experience and fiction.

Greg Bechtel brings attention to the short story as a focus of interest, not as a stepping stone to the novel. He discusses the potential of the short story as a place for experimentation since readers are more willing to take short ventures into experimental media.

Bechtel is interested in stories and letting stories tell themselves. He reminds listeners that the world and the self are both collections of stories. We discuss memories as stories –  flexible, changeable, and suspect. In our overall discussion of memory as it appears in his stories, Bechtel brings attention to the notion of trauma and the idea that trauma is a place where stories can be pulled into a black hole, a place from which nothing escapes. But, telling these stories of trauma, sharing them,  means that they are no longer black holes because the story escapes and proves that things can escape.

In our conversation, Greg Bechtel directly faces a challenge many authors who are also academics have – analyzing his own work.

Check out our radio interview by clicking on the link below.

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.

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Interview with David Nickle

An interview with David Nickle by Derek Newman-Stille

I was pleased that David Nickle was willing to do an interview here on Speculating Canada and particularly that he shows such a strong interest in the ability of Speculative Fiction to open social questions, challenge taken-for-granted notions, and encourage readers to think for themselves. 

Author photo courtesy of David Nickle

Author photo courtesy of David Nickle

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

David Nickle: Well let’s see. I’m the son of a landscape painter and a highschool teacher, have grown up in central Ontario and near Toronto, and I make my living as a political reporter in Toronto.  It’s fair to say that some of this influences my fiction, although I would only get myself into trouble trying to explain precisely how.

Spec Can: How much do you feel your Canadian identity influences your writing?

David Nickle: It doesn’t, a great deal. I’m not a big reader of Canadian literature, at least as its defined under the CanLit Protocol. I certainly pay attention to my environment—a lot of my fiction, particularly my contemporary horror fiction, hinges on a sense of place—but really, the canon that I’ve followed has been the usual mix of British and let’s say North American influences in the general sweep of fantastic fiction. So the H.P. Lovecraft-Richard Matheson-Robert Bloch-Stephen King lineage is something that shows up in my work. I also have paid heed to mainstream writers like John Irving and George Orwell and Timothy Findlay.

Really, my Canadian identity has for many years as a writer, contributed rightly or wrongly to my sense of being an outlier.  Coming of age as a writer, I was constantly faced with the notion that as a Canadian speculative fiction writer, my fiction either ought to deal with humanity cast against a hostile environment—Susanna Moody in Space as it were—or preach non-violent, anti-individualist solutions to problems that an American writer might just shoot full of holes with a space blaster. Canadian specfic writers of a certain age either embraced or bore the weight of that particular critical conceit.

In general, though, I don’t think that I’ve been particularly preoccupied with those themes. I like to think that my writing, like my identity, is fundamentally my own.

Spec Can: What do you see as distinct about Canadian Speculative Fiction?

David Nickle: That’s a big question, in that I think that Canadian speculative fiction has come over the decades to occupy a vast range of subject matter and theme.  To that end, I think that it might be too big a question.

What really makes Canadian speculative fiction distinct, I think, is that its writers are all covered by universal health care such that they can practise their craft and their art without fear of an unexpected blood clot or cancer diagnosis bankrupting their families.  And so there are a lot of us at work here, many of us able to do that work full time, because of that.

Spec Can: What are some of the questions that you hope your work will evoke in the minds of readers?

David Nickle: I’d like readers to question themselves, I guess, and the reality that they believe they inhabit. One of my cherished memories from childhood came at around five years old, when I recall considering the fact of my existence. I had, as all little kids do, experienced myself as being at the center of the universe: without me, there was nothing. But I remember slowly working it through, using all the existentialist tools that my Montessori education had provided me: that in fact, I was finite. I had been conceived in 1963, and born in early ’64. Prior to that, although the world had chugged along, I had had nothing to do with it. When I died, as I understood that people did, it would chug along further, once again, without me.  As I considered this, I didn’t cry, or become angry, or turn to religion. I just became very quiet, and thoughtful, with the realization that there was more to things than I would ever, fully, be able to know. And if there was a real centre of the universe, it sure as shit wasn’t me.

That’s what I want to evoke in my work—the quiet and terrifying wonder of the unknowable void.

If I can evoke that in a five-year-old, all the better.

Spec Can: Your work deals with a lot of diverse bodies. Can you tell us a bit about your interest in the body and in diversity?

David Nickle: Hmm. There are a number of ways to parse that question.  In terms of ethnic/gender diversity, I like to think that my work is as diverse as the best of them, but it’s not a conscious choice. I’ve grown up and lived for the most part in and around Toronto—and the city contains a pantheon to diversity. You can’t take two steps in this town without encountering people from all parts of the world and from across the gender/sexuality map. Toward that end, you’ve got a choice: either engage, or hunker down in your own ethnic/sexual/gender enclave. I’ve never been for the latter.

Cover photo of Eutopia courtesy of http://davidnickle.blogspot.ca/

Cover photo of Eutopia courtesy of http://davidnickle.blogspot.ca/

So far as the body goes, now: I’m going to parse the question such that we’re talking about some of the body horror that I’ve dealt with in some of my fiction (my first solo novel Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism comes to mind as particularly squicky in that regard). I like body horror as a writer (less so as a reader) because it is a pretty literal and direct route to getting under a reader’s skin.  From the time we hit puberty, the spectacle of our changing bodies is a constant preoccupation, and I think a universal. So when we talk about change, and that mysterious and unknowable void I was talking about earlier, depicting a gestating parasite or an eyelid that opens unexpectedly in a lover’s forearm… well, it’s an attention-getter.

Spec Can: What can Speculative Fiction do that “realist” fiction can’t?

David Nickle: There’s a troubling premise embedded in that question for a writer like myself—which is to say, one who tries to write contemporary horror fiction: namely, that speculative fiction and realistic fiction exist in separate silos.

For my purposes, they don’t. I can’t write about the incursion of the strange and supernatural into a world, without that world functioning for the most part according to realistic rules.  So realism is an invaluable tool for me, and I wouldn’t be able to get to the speculative elements in my fiction without it.

That said, I think that the injection of the speculative into the firmament of the real enables us to transcend the moment-to-moment realities of life on Earth.  I like to think of most of my speculative elements as the metaphor in a story made real. But it also allows the reader to feel a moment of scary transcendence that while possible in realistic fiction, is much more difficult to attain.

Spec Can: You collaborated with Karl Schroeder in writing The Claus Effect. What is it like to collaborate with another author? What were some of the benefits and drawbacks?

David Nickle: I’ve collaborated twice with Karl, and once with Edo Van Belkom (on our Stoker-winning short story Rat Food). Each project was a little different. Karl and I wrote two Santa Claus stories together—The Toy Mill, which won us an Aurora Award, and The Claus Effect. Edo and I did one nasty little short story that got a fair bit of attention back in the day and, I like to think, created the genre of epicurean rodent stories that culminated in Ratatouille.

In all three cases, the biggest benefit was that it was just a lot of fun. We riffed off each other,  and tried to find middle ground between our individual styles, and so in an effortless and enjoyable way, stretched as writers. 

The drawback is, I guess, the drawback of any attempt at sharing in a project: the end result isn’t your own, entirely, and you have to recognize the fact that at least half of the good bits, you had nothing to do with.

And really, egos aside, that’s not much of a drawback at all.

Spec Can: In The Claus Effect, you tackle the issue of over-consumption around the holidays. What inspired you to write about the figure of Santa Claus and, in particular, the concept of greed surrounding the holidays?

Cover photo courtesy of the authors

Cover photo courtesy of the authors

David Nickle: That theme—over-consumption around the holidays—wasn’t, weirdly, what got us into the character. It was really the image of Santa Claus, as this great figure of corruption hiding behind a red suit and a funny beard; the notion of malevolence hiding, not very well, in the most benevolent of places. We also both really enjoyed the idea of taking hold of this treacly  and corrupt Victorian notion and, well, turning up the volume.

Spec Can: What mythologies or ideas of the mythic influence your writing?

David Nickle: I’m influenced by a lot of things: the Bible, Greek and Norse and Central American mythology. The Cthulhu Mythos.

Probably the mythology that most influences me, though, is the collection of ideas, conceits and dreams that come together in the 1970s New Age movement. There are some who might scoff at the idea of New Age crystals and Transcendendal meditation and astral projection and aura-reading as a mythology—both people who think it’s hokum, and people who’ve built their lives around it. So be it.  Having grown up with that as  a big part of my household, I find that when I’m looking at supernatural/paranormal explanations and premises, I go there first. At least for now.

Spec Can: What role does the figure of the outsider play in your work? Why do outsider figures work so well in speculative fiction?

David Nickle: I’ll deal with the second part first. I think outsiders are useful in spec fic for entirely technical reasons: they provide a viewpoint that allows readers to enter a strange and complicated world, and learn about it from the ground up. Outsiders can function variously as students, as critics, and as disruptive elements.  They make the story go around.

In my own work? I’m not consciously aware of the outsider as a particular trope in my stories, other than for the aforementioned reasons.

Spec Can: Many of your stories deal with the idea of love turned monstrous or distorted (i.e. The Sloan Men, The Inevitability of Earth). What can horror fiction tell us about ideas of love?

David Nickle: Well first off, I don’t want to be down on love. It is the sweetest thing, and getting it right is akin to getting your life right.

When it’s going right. I think that because of the potential payoff—a life of happiness and fulfillment—we sometimes dive at things that look a lot like love but are really nothing more than traps. That is where horror fiction comes in—because horror fiction is, on its most basic level, all about the trap.

Spec Can: Your short story Janie and the Wind deals with issues of domestic abuse. What can Speculative Fiction do to call attention to issues of domestic abuse?

David Nickle: I think that speculative fiction can do a lot to illuminate domestic abuse issues—although I’m not sure that I really did, in Janie in the Wind. In that story, the truly abusive relationships come about when the Wendigo enters a fellow. And that is a bullshit excuse that has been around for far too long: that the “devil made me do it” or some variation.

I think speculative fiction does what any good fiction does when dealing with hard, real issues like domestic abuse: it establishes a sense of empathy and understanding that journalism or other methods of inquiry cannot.

Spec Can: Your work has a dream-like quality. How do dreams influence your work?

David Nickle: Dreams themselves don’t influence my work very much; I’m not the kind of writer who wakes up from a fitful night and writes down the odd dream I had, as source material for a story. But I think that all fiction, all stories, follow a dream-logic. Because fundamentally, they’re waking dreams, and just as sleeping dreams are a kind of cognitive narrative that we impose on thoughts and memories, so are the waking dreams that are fiction.

Spec Can: Are there any other thoughts or idea that you would be interested in sharing with readers?

Cover photo for The 'Geisters courtesy of http://davidnickle.blogspot.ca/

Cover photo for The ‘Geisters courtesy of http://davidnickle.blogspot.ca/

David Nickle: Oh, ask a writer with a  book coming out for parting thoughts, and I’m afraid you’re going to have to sit through a plug for the next book.

In this case, my next book is coming out this spring/summer from ChiZine Publications. It’s called The ‘Geisters, and in brief, it looks at some of the socio-sexual implications of active poltergeists in an age of internet kink, while doing its best to scare the nose off readers. It’s also another Fenlan story (Fenlan being my little south-western Ontario answer to Stephen King’s Castlerock and H.P. Lovecraft’s Arkham).  Like many of the stories I’ve set there, it’s all about love gone monstrously wrong.

I want to thank David Nickle for this fantastic interview and his incredible insights and keen observations about horror, love, the figure of the outsider, coming of age as a writer in Canada, and Canadian Spec Fic in general. I am excited about reading his new book The ‘Geisters when it comes out this summer. You can explore more about David Nickle by visiting his website at http://davidnickle.blogspot.ca/ .

Upcoming Interview with David Nickle on Friday February 15th

In our upcoming interview, David Nickle discusses coming of age as a writer of Canadian Speculative Fiction, particularly non-violent, anti-individualist storylines and a general sense of outsider identity that permeates the lives of many Canadian Spec Fic authors. He wants readers to question themselves and their reality, challenge their preconceptions, and experience those moments of “scary transcendence” that are embodied in Speculative Fiction.

Author photo courtesy of David Nickle

Author photo courtesy of David Nickle

David Nickle shares aspects of his personal life, insights into Speculative Fiction, society, love,  horror, and collaborative writing.

Here are some teasers for our upcoming interview:

David Nickle: “A lot of my fiction, particularly my contemporary horror fiction, hinges on a sense of place”

David Nickle: “My Canadian identity has for many years as a writer, contributed rightly or wrongly to my sense of being an outlier. Coming of age as a writer, I was constantly faced with the notion that as a Canadian speculative fiction writer, my fiction either ought to or possibly does deal with humanity cast against a hostile environment—Susanna Moody in Space as it were—or in preaching non-violent, anti-individualist solutions to problems that an American writer might just shoot full of holes with a space blaster.”

David Nickle: “That’s what I want to evoke in my work—the quiet and terrifying wonderful of the unknowable void.”

David Nickle: “I like body horror as a writer (less so as a reader) because it is a pretty literal and direct route to getting under a reader’s skin.  From the time we hit puberty, the spectacle of our changing bodies is a constant preoccupation, and I think a universal.”

David Nickle: “I can’t write about the incursion of the strange and supernatural into a world, without that world functioning for the most part according to realistic rules.”

David Nickle: “Probably the mythology that most influences me, though, is the collection of ideas, conceits and dreams that come together in the 1970s New Age movement.”

David Nickle: “I think outsiders are useful in spec fic for entirely technical reasons: they provide a viewpoint that allows readers to enter a strange and complicated world, and learn about it from the ground up. Outsiders can function variously as students, as critics, and as disruptive elements.  They make the story go around.”

David Nickle: “But I think that all fiction, all stories, follow a dream-logic. Because fundamentally, they’re waking dreams, and just as sleeping dreams are a kind of cognitive narrative that we impose on thoughts and memories, so are the waking dreams that are fiction.”

Check out our interview on Friday, February 15th.

If you are not yet familiar with David Nickle’s work, check out my review of The Claus Effect at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/big-red-suit-scare-a-midwinter-cold-war/ and explore David Nickle’s website at http://davidnickle.blogspot.ca/ .

Upcoming Interview With Karl Schroeder on Wednesday, January 23

I first heard Karl Schroeder talk at The Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy in 2009 and have looked forward to the opportunity to talk to him. I am pleased that I will be able to share that conversation with all of you readers on Wednesday, January 23, when Karl Schroeder talks about his work consulting about technological and social futures, the role of SF in promoting non-violence, the flexibility of reality, collaborative writing, and the potential of SF to help readers to question the world around them and develop better methods for decision-making. This is definitely an interview that opens up new worlds of experience for readers.

Here are some teasers from our upcoming interview:

Karl Schroeder: “Nowadays, my Canadian identity—like my Mennonite background—probably shines through most in my attitudes toward violence as a valid political tool. I.e., it isn’t one. I do write ripping pirate yarns, such as the Virga books, but those are cartoonish in their depictions of war. When I’m serious—as in books such as Lady of Mazes or the forthcoming Lockstep—I am careful to present nonviolent paths to resolving conflict as the superior option.”

Karl Schroeder: “We spend much of our lives programming ourselves to react automatically rather than to think. It’s faster, costs less energy. Part of that process involves the ossification of our basic categories: man/woman, human/nonhuman. SF deliberately blurs these categories in order to almost literally wake us up. It’s strangemaking, which is a very valuable capacity, especially in the present situation when the world needs innovative new solutions to some pretty dire problems.”

Karl Schroeder: “It’s not that SF presents, or even can present, the solutions to big issues like global warming or global poverty; it’s that it helps educate us in the kind of thinking that can lead to them.”

Karl Schroeder: “I could simultaneously write a hard SF novel and a fantasy epic, without the stories interfering in any way with one another.”

Karl Schroeder: “Realism, in literature, painting, and science, is just the rule of the lowest common denominator.  It’s not actually a successful stance in science, for instance; strictly realist approaches to quantum mechanics fall into paradox pretty quickly. Realism achieves some stability in understanding the world by simply discarding 99% of all the available data (whether that be measurements, opinions, or political stances).”

Karl Schroeder: “What we lack today is a mythic dimension of the real. There’s plenty of sense-of-wonder available from fantasy, but why should we have to escape reality in order to experience the mythic? Much of my work consists of examples of things that are perfectly possible, but as magical as anything you can find in fantasy.”

Karl Schroeder: “Everyone in the world today is caught between what they believe to be true, and what they know to be real. We’ve been taught that the real is not the realm of magic or of the imaginative. In fact, most of us are utterly incapable of reconciling what we believe to be true and what we know to be real.”

Karl Schroeder: “I wrote the Virga books to illustrate just how much novelty and wonder were still possible within science fiction with just what we knew a hundred years ago. The so-called ‘ordinary’ is an inexhaustible wellspring of wonder. To know that is to be comfortable living in this world.”

Karl Schroeder: “Nuclear fusion, augmented reality, nanotech… yeah, they’re all great. But we don’t need them. There’s only one development that we need at this point in our history: better methods and systems for decision-making, both individual and collective.”

Check out Speculating Canada on Wednesday, January 23 for Karl Schroeder’s philosophical insights as well as his thoughts and speculations about the writing process. This is definitely an interview that will challenge the status quo and push the boundaries of the way we define reality.

Interview with Silvia Moreno-Garcia

An interview with Silvia Moreno-Garcia by Derek Newman-Stille

Author photo of Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Author photo of Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I am really excited to have been able to interview Silvia Moreno-Garcia. She espouses a lot of the themes that I talk about in my own work around the ability for SF to include those who are traditionally pushed to the fringes, so I was really pleased that she was willing to share some insights here on Speculating Canada.

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

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: I am a writer, editor and publisher. My work appears in a number of anthologies and magazines, including Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing. The latest anthology I edited is Fungi, with Orrin Grey. I own Innsmouth Free Press, a micro-press that specializes in Weird fiction and horror. I was born and raised in Mexico. I moved to Canada almost ten years ago.

Spec Can: What drew you to write about monsters? What can the figure of monstrosity add to literature?

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Do I write about monsters? See, to me when I think monster I picture Godzilla. Vampires, zombies…they seem so normal nowadays you’d expect them to live next door and drive a mini-van.

But the monstrous…I don’t mind the monstrous. When I’m writing about a vampire I actually don’t give a fig about the stuff most people might care about, like sexy dark looks and such. I’m probably more interested in things like the ease for cruelty or the passage of time. That’s what seems monstrous to me: how a vampire can use people like tissue paper, for example. My great-grandmother, when I was growing up, would tell me stories and in those stories witches and shape-shifters were as normal as the baker and the corner policeman. The monstrous and the mundane co-existed. I grew up with that vision of the world so to me, I’m probably more scared of the Mexican police than a vampire.

Spec Can: Your work shows an interest in oppressed peoples (particularly since you are an author who has published several stories in Expanded Horizons: Speculative Fiction for the Rest of Us). What has inspired this interest?

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: As a woman, a person of colour and an immigrant, I’ve found myself at the lower end of the totem pole in both my country of birth and in Canada. It’s a totally different game when you’ve got the worst cards in the deck. Obviously, due to my background, I gravitate towards fellow POCs as characters, women, etc.

One thing that has always bugged me, for example, is why do aliens always land in the USA? Why don’t people with menial jobs get featured in fantasy stories? Does the kid cleaning the kitchen pots not have an interesting tale to tell? That’s why I tell these stories. It’s the questions I’ve asked myself.

Spec Can: Although SF is often called ‘the literature of change’ it does not represent people from minority groups (whether ethnic, racial, sexual, or gender minority peoples, or people with disabilities) very often. What could SF be doing to better represent human diversity?

Silvia Moreno-Garcia with the anthology "Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic Science Fiction"

Silvia Moreno-Garcia with the anthology “Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic Science Fiction”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Foster it. That means ask for diverse stories, buy diverse stories, promote diverse authors. Don’t nominate the same old names on the same old ballots. Share books and stories that are different and exciting, and explain why they are different and exciting. Demand more than clichés in its narratives and move beyond ‘exotic’ characters to add a dash of spice.

It’s a bit of a circle. If you don’t promote and look for minority point of views, they are not going to come to you. When I started reading Western speculative fiction I could never find people like me. For that reason, I thought I had to write stories the way white Western people did. Set them in New York, have a white hero, due the whole Campbell plot, etc. I didn’t think anything else was possible, that anything else would be transgressive, because I could not find examples of other stories. When I finally decided to move from that self-confined pen is when I began to really write about the stuff that mattered to me. The point is: if young readers don’t see spaces for them in fiction, they are not going to become writers and they are not going to tell their stories. They’ll go to another space where they feel welcome. We have to make them feel welcome.

I attended the VCon festival a couple of years ago and it was in Richmond. It was a huge disconnect because Richmond has a huge Asian population. So I’d be in the convention space where everyone was white – I think I was the only person of colour walking around – and outside, in the streets, there were so many Asian people. I kept thinking: we have to tap into this market! It can’t be that we have this little bubble and all these other people are outside. And that’s what the spec community needs to do.

I’m not saying it’s easy. But, for example, for the Sword and Mythos anthology I’m publishing this year I gave the artist a brief that asked him to paint a female fighter against a monster. Oh, and the woman should be wearing suitable armour and not be white. Why? Why not? Why should the default be white? So I got back a cover with a Japanese-inspired warrior and I think it works nicely because it looks different from other sword and sorcery covers.

We can do stuff like this. We can star or review good fiction from minority groups to help promote, so it doesn’t get lost in the din. We can ask for more diverse programming and guests and cons. We can pause for a moment and ask: what happens if I make the hero gay? Get out of our default zone. There are many, many voices that have amazing stories to tell and we haven’t even begun to mine them.

Spec Can: What can Speculative Fiction do that “realist” fiction can’t?

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: I’m actually a big lover of realist fiction. Two of my favourite novels are Lolita and Madame Bovary – for short fiction I actually prefer speculative fiction, mind you. Some of my stuff could appear – and has appeared – in realist, so-called literary publications. I’m just…I like not having to worry about certain things when I’m writing. Like if someone suddenly dies and comes back as a ghost, sure, why is that not fair game? Speculative fiction allows you to do that. But then again, I don’t draw many distinctions between literary/realist fiction and speculative when it comes to my writing. I think a lot of what I do is fairly realist.

Spec Can: What is unique or distinct about Canadian Speculative Fiction, and, in particular, Canadian Weird Fiction or Horror?

Silvia Moreno-Garcia with The Book of Cthulhu from her blog at http://silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/2011/09/cthulhu-time/

Silvia Moreno-Garcia with The Book of Cthulhu from her blog at http://silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/2011/09/cthulhu-time/

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: I think it’s a bit more fluid than say American speculative fiction. The boundaries between literary and speculative seem hazier. The speculative scene here is a lot smaller. I think you eventually meet everyone, and I mean everyone. Maybe not personally, but you know a lot more people.

Also, Canada seems a lot more concerned with establishing its identity and discovering itself. It’s like Americans kind of know who they are, they are pretty sure about it, but we are constantly asking the same question over and over again. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just a tick.

Spec Can: The image of “home” and ideas of home and belonging feature strongly in your work (particularly in short stories like A Handful of Earth). What have influenced these ideas and why is home such a prevalent concept in your work?

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Guilt. I left Mexico and moved to Canada. I love Canada, but there’s always a bit of guilt for abandoning my family, my old city.

The last time I went to Mexico I saw how much the old street where I grew up as a teenager had changed and I realized in a couple of decades I might not be able to recognize it. What happens when the things I grew up with are completely gone and erased? All the landmarks, all the bits of my childhood. Who will put flowers at the altars of my dead relatives? Who am I, then?

At the same time, when people were asking me if I’d ever go back to Mexico, I had to say no. Canada is now home. I miss it when I am away. And yet when I walk down the street sometimes someone will be friendly and we’ll chat, and they’ll ask ‘where are you from, where’s home from you?’ and I’ll think about Mexico.

But I can’t go back. That Mexico is gone. But it lives in my memory. It’s a weird thing. It’s like a ghost. It’s the ghost of a past life.

Spec Can: What ideas of feminism influence your work?

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: The whole thing? There’s nothing like reading a help wanted ad in the newspaper that says “Secretary wanted. 20-35 years of age. Good looking” to get you on a feminist path. That’s what I grew up with. I couldn’t stand the macho culture around me. It was so stifling.

I remember going to work when I was living in Mexico City. And I’d always wear this long, black, leather trench coat. It was the only way to stop men from whistling at me or trying to touch me in the subway. It didn’t matter if I wore a long skirt or a short skirt or trousers, nothing helped. Except the trench coat. That covered me completely and it made me look like I might be with a gang or something, so they left me alone. Imagine that. Having to make sure you look scary and non-female enough to board the subway every day. I wrote “Nahuales” which is coming out in Bull Spec based on that.

It was so odd when I went abroad and I was living in Massachusetts to suddenly learn all these feminist ideas. Like your body is your own. Eureka! It’s like a light bulb went inside my head. Suddenly I understood everything that had been making me uncomfortable all those years. Feminism. It was awesome.

Spec Can: What are some of the questions that you hope your work will evoke in the minds of readers?

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: I don’t know. Each story is different. I hope it’ll evoke a feeling more than a question.  I remember an e-mail I got once from an editor rejecting one of my stories saying he couldn’t buy it because, although it had made him cry, he didn’t understand it.

I don’t want people to understand my stuff. I mean, they can if they want. But I’d like if they could feel it. When I was growing up and me great-grandmother told me stories I didn’t ask ‘why.’ Why did the witch turn into a ball of fire? Why is there a lion loose in the sierra? I accepted it all. But it did evoke feelings and it painted pictures in my mind.

Spec Can: How do ideas of the mythic influence your work?

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: I’m not sure they do. Legends influence my work. Folklore influences my work. That’s what I was exposed to growing up. But the mythic seems to vast and grand for what were much smaller discussions.

Spec Can: What is the importance of mythic narratives for the modern world?

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Yeah, I wouldn’t know. Legends, I know. Oral tradition is a pretty big deal to me. One of the things I’m trying to do with my son is tell him all the stories I was told as a child, so that he’ll tell them to someone else. It’s the only way our ancestors will be remembered and our stories will live on.

Spec Can: H.P. Lovecraft and Lovecraftian ideas appear to have influenced a lot of your work. What is the appeal of Lovecraft for you and why is he such a big influence on your own writing? How does he speak to you as a writer?

Author photo of Silvia Moreno-Garcia with the collection "Future Lovecraft"

Author photo of Silvia Moreno-Garcia with the collection “Future Lovecraft”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Lovecraft is a huge influence for the field of horror, so eventually you bump into the guy one way or another. I like his sense of dread and madness. I also enjoy how the past tends to came back to haunt his characters. Like an ancestor will influence current events.

I think I have a subversive relationship with his writing. For example, when reading “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” I felt like the fish people were me. He’s talking about scary minority people in his stories and those are me. I am the outsider he fears. But because I’m the outsider, it’s not scary. I think “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” is a happy story. Guy finds true heritage and reunites with family. Doesn’t that feel like a happy ending? Sure, a bit creepy ‘cause fish people and all, but I was always identifying with the bad “other” guys.

It’s like Lovecraft didn’t invite me to the party but I crashed it anyway.

Spec Can: Memory and nostalgia feature strongly in your work. What has inspired your interest in memory?

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: My great-grandmothers stories, her oral narratives, had a big impact on me. If she hadn’t told me stories, I wouldn’t write today. I write because of her. She told me stories of her childhood, folktales, she sometimes narrated movies she’d seen. The funny thing is when I actually saw the movies — like I sat down and saw Dracula — it was slightly different from what she’d told me.  It had morphed in her mind. Memory is really unreliable and yet it is the foundation of our lives.

There is a movie I saw as a child, an anime flick about a girl who gets some kind of artificial body. I’ve never been able to find it. I’m not sure it exists. Maybe I imagined it or clobbered it together from other stuff. Isn’t that funky? I may be recalling something that never happened.

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

Silvia Moreno-Garcia:  Um…let’s see. You can find me blogging at silviamoreno-garcia.com. I’m  also at innsmouthfreepress.com with some irregular reviews and such. Oh, and my first collection, Shedding Her Own Skin, is out later this year.

I want to thank Silvia Moreno-Garcia for her incredible insights and for sharing so much of herself in this interview. She really shows the power of SF for social justice.

I was really fascinated to see how much the mythic and the power of stories, folklore, legends, and tales have influenced her development as a writer. She really illustrates that the mythic is alive and well in our world.

Upcoming Interview with Silvia Moreno-Garcia on Wednesday January 16th

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a Mexican-Canadian author and editor and the owner of Innsmouth Free Press. I particularly enjoy her work because it often gives voice to those who are othered in society and I was really happy that she agreed to do an interview with me here on Speculating Canada.

Author photo of Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Author photo of Silvia Moreno-Garcia

In the upcoming interview, Silvia tells us about how stories influenced her life from an early age and prepared her to be a writer, about the different take that she has on the figure of the monster, the role of social oppression in SF, the power of transgressive writing, and ideas of home.

Here are some teaser quotes from our upcoming interview:

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “Do I write about monsters? See, to me when I think monster I picture Godzilla. Vampires, zombies…they seem so normal nowadays you’d expect them to live next door and drive a mini-van.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “My great-grandmother, when I was growing up, would tell me stories and in those stories witches and shape-shifters were as normal as the baker and the corner policeman. The monstrous and the mundane co-existed. I grew up with that vision of the world so to me, I’m probably more scared of the Mexican police than a vampire.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “One thing that has always bugged me, for example, is why do aliens always land in the USA? Why don’t people with menial jobs get featured in fantasy stories? Does the kid cleaning the kitchen pots not have an interesting tale to tell? That’s why I tell these stories. It’s the questions I’ve asked myself.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “Demand more than clichés in [SF] narratives and move beyond ‘exotic’ characters to add a dash of spice.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “If young readers don’t see spaces for them in fiction, they are not going to become writers and they are not going to tell their stories. They’ll go to another space where they feel welcome. We have to make them feel welcome.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “There are many, many voices that have amazing stories to tell and we haven’t even begun to mine them.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “I like not having to worry about certain things when I’m writing. Like if someone suddenly dies and comes back as a ghost, sure, why is that not fair game? Speculative fiction allows you to do that.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “There’s nothing like reading a help wanted ad in the newspaper that says “Secretary wanted. 20-35 years of age. Good looking” to get you on a feminist path. That’s what I grew up with. I couldn’t stand the macho culture around me. It was so stifling.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “Each story is different. I hope it’ll evoke a feeling more than a question.  I remember an e-mail I got once from an editor rejecting one of my stories saying he couldn’t buy it because, although it had made him cry, he didn’t understand it. I don’t want people to understand my stuff. I mean, they can if they want. But I’d like if they could feel it. When I was growing up and me great-grandmother told me stories I didn’t ask ‘why.’ Why did the witch turn into a ball of fire? Why is there a lion loose in the sierra? I accepted it all. But it did evoke feelings and it painted pictures in my mind.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “I was always identifying with the bad ‘other’ guys.”

Join us this Wednesday January 16th  to hear about minivan monsters, Ms. Moreno-Garcia’s ability to ask tough SF questions about the people who are under-represented, and hear about some methods of helping SF to be more inclusive of the diversity of people.  If you haven’t already seen it, you can check out my review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “A Handful of Earth” at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/abandoned/ .

Interview with Camille Alexa

Camille Alexa has dual Canadian and American citizenship. She is the co-editor of the Canadian Superhero collection Masked Mosaic as well as the author of the short fiction collection Push of the Sky. She wrote the winning story for OnSpec’s Apocalypse issue (#90 Vol 24, no 3) and has published in magazines and anthologies such as Subversion, Space & Time Magazine, Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing, Blood and Water, and Chilling Tales 2: In Words, Alas, Drown I.

Author photo courtesy of Camille Alexa

Author photo courtesy of Camille Alexa

You can explore my review of her story  “All Them Pretty Babies”  at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/its-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-and-i-feel-speculative/ and “Children of the Device” at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/doomed-to-repeat/ . From the amount of times I have reviewed her work, you can probably tell that I am a fan, so I was quite excited when Ms. Alexa agreed to do an interview with me. I hope you enjoy the following interview as much as I did. Reading her work, you can really tell that, as she says below “My primary aim in fiction is to have a blast writing.” Her love of writing and joy at playing with literary work comes through in the interview below as well as in her fiction writing.

Spec Can: I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about yourself to start off this interview?

Camille Alexa: I’m a dual Canadian/ American writer currently riding the rails back and forth between Vancouver, BC and Portland, Oregon.  I’ve been told I’m a bit of a contrarian.  My hair is not always the same color it was the previous year and a professor once remarked that while my clothes might not make a fashion statement, they certainly raised some fashion questions.  I like yams.

Spec Can: Several of your short stories have featured an apocalyptic theme. What is the appeal of writing about apocalyptic themes?

Camille Alexa: I’ve been pondering this myself.  My so-amazing literary agent [Jennifer Weltz of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency] recently asked me to compile a list of my published stories for the agency database, each followed by a one- or two-sentence description.  There were a few – seventy or eighty – so it took a while, and I was shocked at the kinds of words and phrases popping up again and again:  ragtag band of surviving children. . . on the eve of apocalypse . . . land devastated by ecological and biological warfare . . .

Some stories hold more conscious humour (“Four Jerks of the Apocalypse,” “A Pretty Lucky Day”), but others tilt toward the raw end of things.  I’m not sure why my fiction mind turns to apocalypse so easily, but disaster literature is just so appealing, so rife with opportunity for growth and heroism.  New beginnings.  Dire endings.  That sort of thing.

Also, maybe I live in constant fear for the state of the planet?  Humans are pretty rough with their toys.

Spec Can: What is your favorite apocalyptic theme and why does it interest you so much?

Camille Alexa: I’m much less interested in – or for that matter cognizant of – exact themes than I am in characters and the ways in which they react to extreme scenarios.  Hey!  There’s apocalypse in a nutshell:  extreme scenario.  About as extreme as you can get, frankly — at least from a human perspective. . . .

Now my fiction brain wants to go off and write stories about the beneficiaries of an apocalypse, those life-forms that’ll thrive and flourish once the rest of us are swept away.  Hello, slime mold and cockroaches! Hello, genetically-modified invasive flora!

Spec Can: What social issues can apocalyptic themes deal with or raise awareness of? What is useful/worthwhile/important about pondering potential apocalypses?

Camille Alexa:  My primary aim in fiction is to have a blast writing [author’s note: because writing is awesome!].  My secondary aim is to tell a good story.  I’m not trying to teach or preach; if people see something of themselves or their world in a story, recognize something moving or disturbing, then that’s in keeping with the effects of art in general.  Cinema, theatre, music, literature — art expands us, makes our private worlds larger rather than smaller, adds to what we’ve felt or seen or experienced up to that point.

Spec Can: In your short story Children of the Device (In Here Be Monsters: Tongues and Teeth: Issue Seven, 2012) you deal with a group of human beings who have escaped from the Earth’s destruction and later generations of humanity end up repeating the same self destructive behaviour – over-consumption, mass violence, a focus on the “now”. Where do you see our current social focus on over-consumption and instant culture going?

Camille Alexa: Hah!  See my answer about the appeal of writing apocalypses.  Overconsumption, violence, lack of compassion or fairness, shortsightedness about the future . . . I’ll repeat:  humans are rough with their toys.  Of course, you could write a perfectly non-apocalyptic story addressing all these themes — it just might not be as much fun.

Spec Can: In your short story All Them Pretty Babies (On Spec, Fall issue, 2012), you deal with a post-apocalyptic world in which people with biological differences are only able to thrive in the wastelands outside of the protected city. Could you expand on your commentary about the control and normalising effects of society? What can we learn from your character Esmè, who considers biological difference to be beautiful?

Camille Alexa:  I’m certainly not anti-society!  I think of myself as fairly civic-minded.  I recycle and ride a bike and support use of renewable resources.  I want society – or should we call it Society, capital S? – to be the best version of itself, honest and just and mighty.

Of course, that other stuff you mention – control and normalizing effects – those things sound pretty crummy.  Esmè’s story is cool because you get to see the world through her eyes, but also through yours, the reader’s.  The intersections of those viewpoints, where they’re dissonant and where they harmonize, is where things get interesting.

Spec Can: You currently live in a 2 author house. The creative energy in that house must be amazing. What is it like to live with another author? 

Camille Alexa: Yes!  Though Claude [Lalumière] and I are very careful to give each other space for writing, which is a mostly private endeavour.  We’re huge fans of each other’s work, but we do not critique or proof or even read each other’s stories until contributor copies arrive at the house.  It can be quite excruciating, waiting on the mail.  We love egging each other on, though.  Love seeing each other succeed and be read.  But it can get emotional.  We just received the On Spec all-apocalypse issue with “All them Pretty Babies.”  When he told me he liked it, I burst into tears.  It’s very powerful thing, knowing someone you respect so much respects you in return.

Spec Can: What mythologies influence your work and why do they speak to you?

Camille Alexa: My father’s a folklorist, so I’ve always been fascinated with myth and lore.  My heritage is Caribbean on my father’s side, Irish and Scandinavian on my mother’s.  Since I lived in Denmark for a time, I’d say the Scandinavian history and mythologies speak to me the most, though I love it all.  Urban legends and schoolyard lore have always held particular fascination for me, too.

Myth taps into things we can’t always justify or explain, moves us or scares us or elates us.

Cover photo of Push of the Sky by Camille Alexa

Cover photo of Push of the Sky by Camille Alexa

Spec Can: What can Speculative Fiction do that ‘realist’ fiction can’t?

Camille Alexa: What CAN’T speculative fiction do?  I think that’s its appeal.  You can go anywhere when you untether a story from the probable.  With luck, you can get others to follow you to those places you pull from the aether, meet the strange creatures there and tread those weird and unlikely paths.

Not all my fiction is speculative.  And there are certainly tropes and modes that appeal to me more than others; I’d write a genetically-modified supervirus zombie over a magically animated corpse any day of the week – and it would more likely be tragic than terrifying.  Because I’m continually moved and astounded by the natural world, I tend to find inspiration in flora, fauna, specialized ecosystems, early hominids, pterosaurs. . . .

That said, I have absolutely no trouble writing about unicorn shapeshifters or the moon being an enormous wedge of green cheese.  I simply treat those things, within the parameters of their own universes, as factual rather than magical.

Spec Can: What is distinctive about Canadian Speculative Fiction?

Camille Alexa: The Canadian scene feels very exciting right now.  The speculative fiction scene in the US seems to have gotten bogged down with a distressing focus on awards and “approved” hierarchies and paths to writerdom.  There is no single path to writing, or to loving to write, or to living to write – any more than there is a single path to reading or loving to read.

There’s real excitement and energy to Canadian spec fic writing. I was utterly blown away by the incredible stories Claude and I received for our MASKED MOSAIC: CANADIAN SUPER STORIES anthology.  As Flash Fiction Editor at Abyss & Apex, I read hundreds of stories from around the world.  But that slush pile didn’t hold a candle to the overall quality and inventiveness and sheer excitement of what I read for MM.  Not even close.

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?

Camille Alexa: Absolutely!  I usually start a story with just a spark.  It might be a hint of a character, or a vague idea – even an opening line or a sequence of words.  With “All Them Pretty Babies” it was a voice; I simply woke up one day with Esmè’s voice in my head, the way she’d speak and think if she were raised by a mountain woman in a postapocalyptic world with no formal schooling, no society of peers to dictate how and what her grammar or her word choices would be.  The voice of the POV character in “After the Pipers” (Triangulation: The Morning After anthology) comes from a similar place, though it’s not got the same cadence or grammatical roots or even plot reasons as Esmè’s.

My father the folklorist was an English professor most of my life.  Maybe I like disaster stories because they can let me wreak deliberate havoc on grammar as well as on the wider world.

Author photo courtesy of Camille Alexa

Author photo courtesy of Camille Alexa

 

I want to thank Camille Alexa for this fantastic interview and for her incredible insights. However, I was really hoping that her hair colour would actually change during the course of our interview 😉 It has been a pleasure talking with her and I really appreciate that she was willing to share insights with readers here on Speculating Canada.