Dionysian

A Review of Gemma Files’ A Rope of Thorns: Volume Two in the Hexslinger Series (ChiZine Publications, 2011)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo for A Rope of Thorns courtesy of ChiZine Publications.

Cover photo for A Rope of Thorns courtesy of ChiZine Publications.

With A Rope of Thorns Gemma Files has written a Dionysian text. Like the Greek god, the world she creates is one of fluids and fluidity – of blood, Absynthe, semen, and sap – and these are intertwined in the form of her character Chess. He is a creature of raw sexuality and transformation – a queer cowboy turned magical demi-god after his flaying in A Book of Tongues. His godly characteristics in A Rope of Thorns, given to him by a Mayan deity through his flaying,  have meant that wherever he travels a weed follows, springing up on the landscape and only appeased when blood sacrifice is offered as it was to the Mayan deities who turned him into this demi-god.

Chess is a figure of flow and flux, constantly changing, uneasy in his personal and physical transformations.

Howver, this is no lazy Dionysian reverie, but rather a full on Bacchic revelry, complete with all of the pulse pounding drums of maenadic madness and delight in the spatter of fluids. Files pulls something from the liquid dark with this text, playing with audience desires and the twining of horror and delight.

And like a good Bacchic revelry, A Rope of Thorns is delightfully subversive, playing with the expectations of a Western novel with its hegemonic masculinity by bringing in male lovers, turning the genre on its head. Her characters are sexually fluid, changing as desires flux and situations change, not stuck in one sexual identity as many characters in Westerns tend to be.

The term Weird Western has been tossed about, but Gemma Files adds another delightful element to the western and creates a Queered Western as beautifully flexible as her gay cowboy protagonist Chess Pargeter.

To read more about Gemma Files’ work, visit her website at http://musicatmidnight-gfiles.blogspot.ca/

To read more about A Rope of Thorns visit ChiZine Publications’ website at http://chizinepub.com/books/rope_of_thorns.php

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Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 18: An Interview with Gemma Files

Gemma Files and I have been on a few panels together in the past and I have always found her incredible fun to talk to, so I was really excited that at Fan Expo Canada this year she managed to have a bit of time to do an interview that I could share with all of you listeners. Our interview is hilarious and simultaneously covers serious issues, marked with laughter and also important social questions. In our chat on Trent Radio, we discuss the use of Toronto by the film industry as the “EveryCity”… and the potential for horror in that anonymity and shapeshifting ability. We talk about Queer or LGBTQ2 content and kink communities and how these have lent themselves to the development of her fantastic fiction… particularly her Hexslingers series which features gay cowboys who use magic. We discuss the use of family and history in CanLit and how these can be factors making for a speculative story that is just as powerful for questioning ideas of ‘traditional families’. Gemma lends her insights about using characters who are morally ambiguous as well as the general problems with creating a ‘perfect hero’ and questioning of the whole social idea of ‘The Hero’. Overall, we venture into questions about subversive writing and the power to turn tropes on their heads as a way of empowering readers and authors.

Gemma talks about functional bisexuality in her characters, trans characters, and the general fluidity of gender and sexuality as a way of illustrating that change is powerful and that characters do change and transform and question notions of identity over time.

As part of her discussion of the subversive potential in literature, Gemma examines the wonderful world of fan fiction and the ability of fan fiction to insert questions into narratives that may not have otherwise asked them. She explores the ability of fan fiction to assert an otherwise ignored voice or people who are generally erased. She also examines the ability of fan fiction to serve as a queer medium allowing for gender or sexual transformations for characters.

Overall, our interview is a lot of laughs, a lot of fun, and a lot of social questions. At the end of this interview, you will find yourself being fairy-led to the bookstore to get some of Gemma’s books while simultaneously plotting out your next fan fiction story!

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. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

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

 

Upcoming Radio Interview With Ian Rogers

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

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

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

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

Cowgouls

A Review of Ian Rogers’ Deadstock (StoneBunny Press, 2011).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover art for Deadstock courtesy of http://www.ian-rogers.com/stories/deadstock.php

Cover art for Deadstock courtesy of http://www.ian-rogers.com/stories/deadstock.php

In the Weird West a ghoul’s gotta do what a ghoul’s gotta do and there ain’t nothin’ to stop them… except for a man with a gun that has no bullets and sucks the life from its user and a woman with 52 knives and a cat that rides in her saddlebags. Ian Rogers’ novella Deadstock is a fast-paced read set in a western outpost town with magic, mayhem, and mystic weapons. Like most Wild West narratives, this Weird West tale pits humanity against a forbidding and hostile environment with characters that are just too stubborn to die no matter what dangers they face.

Like many figures from Wild West narratives, Rogers’ story features an old man who refuses to leave his land and feels a need to protect his home no matter how tainted the land is. In this case, he needs to protect his land against more than just the regular natural dangers and unsavory visitors. This land is filled with the undead, mutilated cattle, strange forces, and is permeated with a general vibe of the creepy.

In the desert, nothing really stays buried and this tale deals with the resurfacing of the past, the dead, the forgotten, and that which is best left hidden. Rogers’ chap book deals with family secrets that come out of living in isolation and the secrets of the land that come from living without much human contact with others.

You can find out more about Ian Rogers on his website at http://www.ian-rogers.com/bio.php and you can check out your own copy of Deadstock at http://shop.stonebunnypress.ca/p/catalogue.html

Interview with Gemma Files

An Interview with Gemma Files By Derek Newman-Stille

Author photo courtesy of Gemma Files

Author photo courtesy of Gemma Files

Gemma Files’ short stories have fascinated me for some time, and, although I have just begun reading her Hexslinger Series I am excited to read the rest of the series, but I couldn’t wait to interview her and get some insights from her to share with readers. I am happy that she was willing to do an interview and I hope that you enjoy reading about the mix of life experience and love of literature that was involved in the alchemical process of creating this fascinating author. I will let Ms. Files introduce herself below.

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

Gemma Files: I was born in London, England (within the sound of Bow Bells, which ostensibly makes me a Cockney, though try telling that to a British person), but have been a Canadian citizen since at least the age of two, and have lived all my life in Toronto, Ontario. My parents, Gary Files and Elva Mai Hoover, are both actors. I have a B.A.A. in Magazine Journalism from Ryerson University, and graduated straight into a recession, which is why—after working as both a security guard and the floor attendant in an upscale sex shop—I only got a permanent job “in my field” by the time I was roughly 25 years old. My later career includes eight years as a film critic (for Toronto’s eye Weekly) plus ten years teaching film history, Canadian film history and screenwriting at the Trebas Institute and the Toronto Film School. But all throughout this same time-period I was writing and selling short stories, five of which were turned into episodes of Tony and Ridley Scott’s erotic horror anthology TV series The Hunger (1997-2000), and two of which I adapted for the screen myself.

In 2008, I lost my job when the TFS shut down, an event which coincided with my son being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder; I spent roughly a year being depressed and acting as his intervener, writing very little except for fan fiction. My friends and professional contacts had been telling me for years that I should “graduate” to novel-writing, because that’s where the money/recognition is, but it really wasn’t until this particular confluence of events that I eventually decided it was time to take the plunge into long-form narrative, so in January of 2009 I began work on what would become A Book of Tongues, Volume One of my Hexslinger Series. By April I had seven chapters and an outline, on the basis of which I sold it to ChiZine Publications, delivering a first draft in November. Amusingly, I was still working off that original outline both all through the second book (A Rope of Thorns) and when I finally finished the final book of what had become a trilogy (A Tree of Bones), in February of 2012.

That said, I’ve always been a writer. My earliest memories are of telling myself stories about characters I particularly loved from the books I read, the movies and TV I watched, the media I consumed…serial stories, usually, jam-packed with questionable content. And though I made a few detours here and there, mainly based on some odd ideas about avoiding working freelance like my parents, I suppose I always knew—read “hoped”—that right here would be where I was going to eventually end up: Pursuing my dreams while working from home, with lying to myself for fun at last my only official “job”.

Spec Can: You show a passion for horror, dark fantasy, and weird fiction in your own creative work, and in  your reviews. What inspires your love of the horrific?

Cover photo of A Tree Of Bones courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo of A Tree Of Bones courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Gemma Files: For me, believe it or not, it’s a form of comfort food. Horror forms a far wider spectrum than most people seem to think, in general; I remember back when I was first telling people that I wanted to write horror films, they’d immediately say: “Oh, like Friday the 13th?” (this gives you some idea of how long ago we’re talking about), and when I’d reply: “No, like Clive Barker’s Hellraiser,” they’d have no idea what the difference was. The horror I admire has always lain fairly securely at the Edgar Allen Poe/H.P. Lovecraft/M.R. James/Shirley Jackson end of things, rather than the Richard Laymon/Ed Lee/goreno-splatterpunk end—I like Peter Straub just as much as Stephen King, and my primary triptych of modern influences are people like Kathe Koja (Skin), Poppy Z. Brite (Exquisite Corpse) and Caitlin R. Kiernan (The Drowning Girl). So while my content may indeed graze some pretty gross stuff, what I’m after overall is a sort of poetry and high drama, a creeping dread and emotional punch, a love of language rooted in the appreciation of the odd. I like fatalism, not nihilism, and the idea of a world with fairly clear magical-metaphorical-moral rules in which people often work through their obsessions physically just makes me happy, occasionally in my pants. In other words, I like opera.;)

Spec Can: What can horror offer readers?

Gemma Files: Back when I was still interviewing people like Wes Craven (for his New Nightmare, if I recall correctly, the single most meta of all the Nightmare on Elm Street series instalments), I remember him saying that horror provides a safe space for audience members to play out their worst fears, to work through all life’s potential traumas and emerge at the other side victorious, if only because they’ve done so and survived. And I do think that idea has a lot of merit—just like the way people often conflate finding horror media triggery with somehow being a morally good person is interesting to me, because its inverse implies that there’s something “wrong” with those who don’t feel the same way.

The idea often seems to be that by consuming horror, you’re damaging yourself somehow, stamping out your softer feelings, making it impossible to get the same charge out of milder stuff. I don’t believe that, however, any more than I believe consuming romance either develops or retards a reader’s understanding of love—entertainment and experience are two completely different things. And again, if you’re taking the entire spectrum of horror into account, there are just as many admirable people in it as terrible people, not that I necessarily think finding or creating role models is the point, in terms of storytelling.

In the end, I guess, to me it’s like having the guts to call the yoga pose savasana “corpse posture.” Horror makes us think about things we’d often prefer not to, like mortality, impermanence, responsibility, randomness, the darker emotions we all share—to look at these things head-on, consider them and then realize they’re neither the be-all nor the end-all of human existence. Or just enjoy watching the blood spray for a while, whichever comes first.

Spec Can: Your work shows an intense interest in the monstrous. Why are monstrous figures so fascinating for readers?

Gemma Files: Because we all hope we’re not monsters, while simultaneously wishing that we were. Magic is a fantasy of ultimate power in a mainly-powerless world, but our own self-knowledge quotient means that we know the shadow lurks underneath everything—that whatever good we do by magic means is bound to sour, especially if improperly paid for. We’ve all read most of the same fairytales, so the principles always seem familiar: Horror is fluid, and just like in folklore, the general principle of horror is not only that things can always change, but that if—when—they do, it’ll probably be something that you did which is the cause of that change. Which is sort of positive, in a way…therapeutic, almost. Monstrosity is not a permanent state, or doesn’t have to be, so long as one understands but doesn’t excuse one’s own nature and takes responsibility for one’s own actions.

Spec Can: The Hexslinger series that you have published with ChiZine is in the Weird Western genre. What got you interested in Weird Westerns? What brings the magical and the West together?

Cover Photo for A Book of Tongues courtesy of the publisher

Cover Photo for A Book of Tongues courtesy of the publisher

Gemma Files: In the case of the Hexslinger Series, it just so happened that I had spent the previous year doing a fair amount of research on life in 1860s America just before, during and after the Civil War, mainly because the last two fandoms I’d passed through were for Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and James Mangold’s remake of 3:10 to Yuma. The latter is the reason that I’ve never made any bones about Chess Pargeter’s physical template being Charlie Prince (as played by Ben Foster), the ambiguously gay sidekick of Russell Crowe’s villain-turned-antihero Ben Wade—though his personality became all his own very quickly, since even just making him aware of his own sexuality means he’s light-years ahead of where poor Charlie was.

But I’ve always liked Westerns, and I love the idea of adding magic to them, because it doesn’t seem so out of place. I think it has to do with the general feeling of infinite expansion and preordained diminution that comes along with the whole Western package—these stories take place in an indefinite space, where the outside is mammoth and the inside cramped, and nothing is (as yet) fully fixed. So why not posit that you’re just as likely to meet zombies around the next mesa, or werewolves, witches, vampires, mad scientists, anaye, Mayan-Mexica gods? Even technology was pretty suspect; the revolver must’ve seemed like magic, just because you no longer had to reload for six whole bullets.

Spec Can: Your Hexslinger series deals with a gay couple and many of your short stories deal with LGBTQ2 characters? What inspires your interest in queer characters?

Gemma Files: Again, I’ve always been pretty clear about the fact that my interest in two guys together is a genuine fetish. I’ve had it since I first began fixating on things sexually, and it forms the cornerstone of my own understanding of desire. Which is, grantedly, a bit weird, since I’m otherwise a functionally heterosexual, cisgender female, but God knows, the Internet has long since proven that I’m hardly the only one out there.

However, I am also very interested in the idea of inclusion, of representation, because—like a lot of people who fall intersectionally against the mainstream default—I’m tired of a world of media which concentrates exclusively on the concerns and interactions of white heterosexual males. When I was younger, I used to react against the fact that the female characters in any given narrative seemed to always be very securely restricted to supporting roles only—the wife, the child, the lure, the obstacle/bitch, the traumatic inciting incident—by recasting male characters as female in my mind, but as I got older I realized you could, in fact, start recasting everybody if you wanted to, thus “fixing” the multitude of similar clichés mainstream storytelling routinely perpetrates on different types of people.

I was also somewhat inspired by proudly gay SFF author Hal Duncan’s remarks about Brokeback Mountain, in which he essentially said he just wanted to see a story about two bad-ass gay people being bad-ass together, having lots of sex and not dying for it. And while I may have slipped up on the “not dying” part a time or two, I feel like in the Hexslinger series—particularly as per Chess and his homme fatale lover, faithless preacher-turned-outlaw magician Reverend Rook—I really did try my best.

Spec Can: What can authors be doing to further ‘Queer’ Speculative Fiction?

Gemma Files: Try writing not queer characters, so much, as characters who happen to be queer, along with all the other qualities that define them. Try to see queer characters as being not the exception but actually the rule, in terms of human diversity—I mean, even going by the classic “7% of everyone you encounter is probably gay” rule, that means that any one of the characters you may have loved and wanted to emulate might have been the sort of person mainstream media teaches us is weird, unnatural and unlikely. So run with that thesis, and see what happens.

But then again, as I’ve said, I have no huge interest in role models; I like a full range of human capacity, with characters who run the moral spectrum and don’t necessarily stay where they’re put. In terms of Chess, for example, I’ve had readers decry the fact that he’s a violent, unforgiving man who tends to shoot first and like it, exulting in his enemies’ pain, but no one’s ever complained about the pride he takes in himself and his unapologetic zest for life, as well as the verve with which he pursues his desires. This is a guy who starts as a villain and ends up as an antihero at best, but discovers himself capable of far more kindness and sympathy than he’d ever been led to believe he could muster. Even his innate perversity, that contrary impulse to do the opposite of what other people think he’s likely to, becomes a virtue rather than a fault when it’s used to others’ benefit rather than in the service of his own selfishness.

In other words, don’t feel as though representation “has to be” positive or negative. Avoid hagiography and demonization. Just let the people you write be who they turn out to be, and enjoy the result.

Spec Can: How can Speculative Fiction open readers’ minds to further diversity?

Cover photo of A Rope Of Thorns courtesy of the ChiZine Publications

Cover photo of A Rope Of Thorns courtesy of the ChiZine Publications

Gemma Files: Because I work primarily in the field of horror, the idea of the Alien—the Other—is a really integral one, one which underlies an amazing amount of human psychology. You see it all through history, and it’s not like it’s gone away: This impulse to say some people are different and therefore lesser, undeserving of sympathy, actively malign—people we can call animals, monsters, and feel perfectly fine about routinely trying to contain, police, punish or even exterminate. But the flip-side of this impulse is the realization that “monsters”, Others, Aliens are almost never as different from you as they seem. That you, in fact, are most often a monster’s “monster”.

This is a hard lesson, but a useful one, and Speculative Fiction explores it constantly, over and over. And it does that, I believe, because people both know in their gut that it’s true yet hope against hope that it’s not. This tension drives almost everything, and it’s testing this tension which is Speculative Fiction’s most useful quality, potentially: Our ability to tell and re-tell ourselves metaphorical fables about the things that are happening all around us, set in some pleasantly distant future, past or alternative universe, which may possibly help us to make good decisions about the here and now.

Spec Can: What mythologies influence your work and how does mythology continue to be fascinating to readers? What does the mythic add?

Gemma Files: Well, for myself, I’ve just always loved it. I’m a huge fan of folklore from around the world—some of the first books I remember loving as a kid were the D’Aullaires’ Book of Greek Myths and Norse Gods and Giants, along with books about Ancient Egypt and other archaeological finds, including stories of the Mexica (then called the Aztecs) and Maya.I wasn’t raised with any sort of religion, so it’s all grist for the mill to me, equally accessible; again, I can only think we tell ourselves these tales of gods and heroes, monsters and villains and the many ways one can blur back and forth into the other for a reason, which is why—especially in an age of fandom—we can be equally passionate about The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars as we are about the Qu’ran or the Bible. Thus making every story a sort of myth, really.

Spec Can: Is there something distinctive about Canadian Speculative Fiction? What is distinctive about it?

Gemma Files: In her book Survival,Margaret Atwood once advanced the idea that all CanLit centres around a massive, indifferent, rejecting physical landscape and our place, or lack of one, within it. And while I initially found that idea hard to go by, mainly because I was raised in one of North America’s cities. One thing I’ve learned from teaching Canadian film history is that Canadian “culture” is mainly defined negatively, like in the old Molson’s “I am Canadian” beer commercial: We don’t eat blubber, we don’t have a President, etc.

Nine times out of ten, particularly in English-speaking Canada, what we’re defining ourselves against is the spectre of America—if I had a dollar for every time a student of mine from somewhere else in the world asked me to admit there’s basically no difference between us and the U.S., I’d eat free for at least a week. Before that, however, it was about wanting to still be part of the British Empire even after they didn’t have any use for us, and these days it’s about how our vaunted multiculturalism mainly provides a way for us to stay in insular little groups and only interact when forced to. Which does, in the end, actually stem from geography: We’re a country the size of the former Soviet Union with a population the size of California spread out across a very disparate series of environments, most of whom still maintain they were tricked into becoming part of one country united by a railway and a radio-television network.

When you get down to it, our national self-image is entirely imposed from the outside, a generalization cobbled together from dreams and guilt, then historically distributed through a Film Board put together by a socialist Scots expatriate who hated Hollywood and a Broadcast Corporation run from Ottawa. No wonder we’re so unable to explain what sets us apart. I always think about the title of one of Alice Munro’s early short story collections, Who Do You Think You Are?, because it perfectly encapsulates the sort of crushing self-doubt and left-over British class system resentment of the individual’s capacity for change in the face of static stagnation that defines the heart of the non-indigenous Canadian experience. And while it’s slightly different when set within an urban context, it’s not even vaguely as different as most of us would like to think.

Which is all a very roundabout way of saying that there’s a big empty place in the Canadian psyche that takes extremely well to fantasy. Hell, even our “non-genre” literature tends to have a massive streak of surrealism and magic realism in it—think about the work of Michael Ondaatje (a poet turned prose writer, which happens a lot up here), Wayson Choy, Paul Quarrington, Derek McCormack, Michael Helm, Anne-Marie McDonald, Barbara Gowdy, Margaret Laurence, Anne Hébert, Atwood herself. But whether you’re talking about Charles de Lint and Guy Gavriel Kay or Susie Moloney, Andrew Pyper and Michael Rowe, our fantasy tends to be rooted in the uncomfortable, the self-reflective, the place where power and freedom come with a price, one that must be paid knowingly, and in blood. We accept coincidence and synchronicity, but also understand hubris, and karma. We expect doom at best, failure at worst. It’s bleak, but it’s familiar, especially to somebody who likes horror.

Spec Can: Where do you see Canadian horror going from here?

Gemma Files: Well, it certainly helps that some of my best friends and colleagues are horror writers who happen to be Canadian, but I see it becoming more and more prevalent. The success that CZP has had since Brett Alexander Savory and Sandra Kasturi started it up is nothing short of amazing, and while they don’t deal entirely with Canadian authors, the work they’ve done to increase our visibility world-wide cannot be undercut. Similarly, I can’t think of anyone who would deny that David Cronenberg created an entire school of (cold, minimalist, body-based) horror that is still influencing new filmmakers today—I’d love it if any given Canadian horror author could have that sort of genre-wide impact. Actually, I’d love to be that author, though I think it highly unlikely.

Spec Can: What frightens you most and how do your fears influence your fiction writing?

Gemma Files: I’m afraid of the same things that everyone else is, probably—death, pain, bodily decay, the loss of love, the uncertainty of the future. I fear for others, especially my son, who has special needs; I fear what I’m capable of, and incapable of, in almost equal measure. And yes, I’d say that all these fears are played out in my writing. It’s a safe enough place for it.

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?

Gemma Files: Always. Writing is an alchemical process, a process of exploration. I love it when things shift on me. A lot of the time, I have a very clear idea of where a story starts and where it ends, but almost no idea of not only how to get from one point to the other, but why these things have to happen. And those questions are almost always answered by the characters themselves. So long as I can stay true to who they are, and not “make” them do anything false to their own natures, I’m satisfied, no matter the outcome.

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

Gemma Files: Not really. Thank you for the opportunity to introduce myself, and speak at (no doubt) tedious length about the things which move and drive me.

I want to thank Gemma Files for this fantastic and insightful interview. I really appreciate her insights on LGBTQ2 characters in literature, the future of Canadian horror, and her willingness to really describe herself.  You can find out more about Gemma Files at her websites https://sites.google.com/site/thegemmafiles/ and http://musicatmidnight-gfiles.blogspot.ca/

OUTlaws and Tex Hex

A review of Gemma Files’ A Book of Tongues Book 1 in the Hexslinger Series (ChiZine Publications, 2010).

Cover Photo for A Book of Tongues courtesy of the publisher

Cover Photo for A Book of Tongues courtesy of the publisher

By Derek Newman-Stille

I have often shied away from the Western genre, seeing it as generally overly heterosexist and enforcing a restricting notion of masculinity, but I was intrigued when I saw that Gemma Files, who often writes pro-queer literature was writing a Weird Western series. Okay I thought to myself, Cowboys might be interesting if they use magic. A Book of Tongues was a beautiful subversion of a generally over-masculinist genre – infusing the Wild West with the weird and the queer.

Files creates two queer protagonists, and unlike a lot of authors who tend to de-masculinise queer characters, Gemma Files makes certain that they are both extremely masculine and also queer-oriented. Her complication of the queer character is made even more fantastic with the introduction of a preacher who is in a relationship with a man. His form of magic is to use bible quotes to empower his magic, which is a brilliant way of empowering queerness by turning bible quotes, which have often been used by intolerant and hateful people as a justification for them disempowering and oppressing queer people.

By situating her novel at a particularly homophobic period of history, Gemma Files makes her character’s challenges even more prevalent. They have to fight a widespread social and religious intolerance of their same-sex relationship as well as facing discrimination and fear for their ability to use magic or hex. The two forms of discrimination intersect in such a way that the only escape from widespread intolerance and the likelihood of death is to use hex craft in an aggressive way. Her characters have to enter a morally ambiguous area – willing to kill in order to preserve their rights to exist. In this way, Files further plays with the Western genre, which often has very easily distinguishable white-hats and black-hats – her characters are morally grey, and may prefer the colour purple.

Upon reading A Book of Tongues one wonders why more authors haven’t used queer characters in the Western genre. The social oppression and fear of homosexuality means that the cowboy characters need to be even more ‘outlaw’-like in nature and when society’s rules prevent your existence itself, the notion of a character who refuses to live by society’s rules makes even more sense. They have to defy social rules just to exist and survive, so it is understandable that these characters would develop a general disdain about social rules and a desire to be their own man.

Gemma Files uses a poetic, mythic language that conveys a beauty in darkness and a darkness in beauty. Like her descriptive style, her characters are painted as both beautiful and deadly. Her devilish desperados are complex characters that are forced into even more complexity for the love that they feel and the social restrictions that surround them.

In a world where hexes have the power to destroy a whole town in the blink of an eye, Chess and Reverend Rook are feared as much for their homosexuality as they are for their ability to wield the destructive power of magic.

To find out more about Gemma Files, visit her website at https://sites.google.com/site/thegemmafiles/ and her blog at http://musicatmidnight-gfiles.blogspot.ca/ .  To find A Book of Tongues and others like it, visit ChiZine’s website at http://chizinepub.com/ .

Upcoming Interview with Gemma Files Next Thursday December 13th

I have been reading short stories by Gemma Files in various Canadian SF volumes for a few years and was excited to pick up her novel A Book of Tongues a few weeks ago. After reading it and seeing the poetry of her language and engagement with the mythical, I knew that she would be fascinating to interview. I hope you enjoy our interview on Thursday December 13th and, if you haven’t had a chance to read her work yet, you can find out more about Gemma Files at her websites https://sites.google.com/site/thegemmafiles/ and http://musicatmidnight-gfiles.blogspot.ca/ .

Cover photo of A Rope Of Thorns courtesy of the ChiZine Publications

Cover photo of A Rope Of Thorns courtesy of the ChiZine Publications

In addition to writing, Gemma Files has an incredible amount of life experience from working in a diverse number of jobs including the Canadian film industry, working as a security guard, and as a film critic. This life experience is probably part of the fascinating alchemy that allows Gemma to create such fantastic works of SF. Anyone who describes horror as “comfort food” is definitely someone who I couldn’t help but be fascinated to talk to.

If you haven’t read A Book of Tongues yet, you can check out my review that will be appearing tomorrow.

Here are some highlights from my upcoming interview with Gemma Files:

Gemma Files: “My earliest memories are of telling myself stories about characters I particularly loved from the books I read”

Gemma Files: “While my content may indeed graze some pretty gross stuff, what I’m after overall is a sort of poetry and high drama, a creeping dread and emotional punch, a love of language rooted in the appreciation of the odd.”

Gemma Files: “The idea often seems to be that by consuming horror, you’re damaging yourself somehow, stamping out your softer feelings, making it impossible to get the same charge out of milder stuff. I don’t believe that, however, any more than I believe consuming romance either develops or retards a reader’s understanding of love—entertainment and experience are two completely different things.”

Gemma Files: “Horror makes us think about things we’d often prefer not to, like mortality, impermanence, responsibility, randomness, the darker emotions we all share—to look at these things head-on, consider them and then realize they’re neither the be-all nor the end-all of human existence.”

Gemma Files: “We all hope we’re not monsters, while simultaneously wishing we were.”

Gemma Files: “I’ve always liked Westerns, and I love the idea of adding magic to them, because it doesn’t seem so out of place. I think it has to do with the general feeling of infinite expansion and preordained diminution that comes along with the whole Western package—these stories take place in an indefinite space, where the outside is mammoth and the inside cramped, and nothing is (as yet) fully fixed. So why not posit that you’re just as likely to meet zombies around the next mesa, or werewolves, witches, vampires, mad scientists, anaye, Mayan-Mexica gods?”

Gemma Files: “I’m tired of a world of media which concentrates exclusively on the concerns and interactions of white heterosexual males.”

Gemma Files: “I was also somewhat inspired by proudly gay SFF author Hal Duncan’s remarks about Brokeback Mountain, in which he essentially said he just wanted to see a story about two bad-ass gay people being bad-ass together, having lots of sex and not dying for it.”

Gemma Files: “Even going by the classic “7% of everyone you encounter is probably gay” rule, that means that any one of the characters you may have loved and wanted to emulate might have been the sort of person mainstream media teaches us is weird, unnatural and unlikely.”

Gemma Files: “When you get down to it, our national self-image is entirely imposed from the outside, a generalization cobbled together from dreams and guilt, then historically distributed through a Film Board put together by a socialist Scots expatriate who hated Hollywood and a Broadcast Corporation run from Ottawa. No wonder we’re so unable to explain what sets us apart.”

Gemma Files: “Our fantasy tends to be rooted in the uncomfortable, the self-reflective, the place where power and freedom come with a price, one that must be paid knowingly, and in blood. We accept coincidence and synchronicity, but also understand hubris, and karma. We expect doom at best, failure at worst. It’s bleak, but it’s familiar, especially to somebody who likes horror.”

Stay tuned next Thursday for Gemma Files to reveal some of the literary alchemy that goes into producing good Weird fiction.