Interview with Regina Hansen, August 2020

Spec Can: It’s great to chat with you again Regina. Last time we chatted was a couple of years ago and it will be wonderful to catch up. Can you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Regina Hansen: Sure. I’m a writer and scholar of supernatural subjects. I was born on Prince Edward Island, raised partly there, then in Montreal. I moved to Massachusetts – where my mother’s family lives – when I was a teenager. I live in Somerville, Massachusetts with my husband and three kids. I’ve written a bunch of scholarly work, and some non-fiction for kids, and now have a YA novel coming out.

Spec Can: I am fascinated by the supernatural subjects that you research. Can you tell us a little bit more about those?

Regina Hansen: My scholarly research tends to be based in myth and religion, and how these are reflected in horror/fantasy film and television. I’ve written a lot about angels and demons and have a scholarly collection coming out with Jeffrey Weinstock – his idea – called Satan and Cinema. I’ve also worked on Stephen King – with Simon Brown, and on the TV series Supernatural, with Susan George. And somewhat related I’ve enjoyed writing on A Christmas Carol, on Neo Victorianism and Victorian Medievalism, but all with a mythic slant.

Spec Can: That is a fantastic scope of research. Do you find that your scholarly work informs your creative writing? Is there a lot of crossover in the ideas you explore?

Regina Hansen: I started studying and thinking about myth and folklore when I was very small, and so finding ways to work it into my scholarship was a joy. Of course, at the same time, I’ve always done creative work that makes use of myth and folklore. My upcoming novel combines stories I heard as a child from my Prince Edward Island family, as well as different elements of world mythology. Celtic, of course, because it’s set on PEI, but also going back much further — but that’s kind of a secret for those who end up reading the book.

Spec Can: Your book sounds absolutely amazing. Could you tell us a little bit about it?

Regina Hansen: Sure. It’s called The Coming Storm, and features a 15-year-old apprentice fiddle player named Beatrice MacNeil, or Beet — which is actually the nickname of one of my great-great-aunts, and I always thought it was kind of cool. Anyway, Beet’s older cousin, more like a brother, dies under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind his baby son. Beet decides to be the boy’s protector. This decision becomes much more dangerous when a woman — Marina Shaw — shows up trying to claim the boy.

Meanwhile there are all these tales of a shapeshifting sea creature and a woman who shows up at the sight of drownings and shipwrecks, singing a frightening but seductive song. Beet and her friends have to find a way to protect the baby and get to the bottom of the strange and scary events that have been happening in the town. Beet’s training in music will come in handy, but so will her learning to trust other people.

Spec Can: I love a good sea creature story. What inspired the focus on the sea? Have you had a long fascination with the sea?

Regina Hansen: Yes! The sea is the one place I am always happy.

I think it is being born on an island.

So combine that absolute joy whenever I am at the ocean with a love of folklore and music … that’s where the book came from.

Spec Can: One of my areas of interest is nissology (Island Studies), so I adore discussions of islands. In what way do you think your story is shaped by being an “island story”?

Regina Hansen: First of all it makes use of the geography and some history of a specific island, Prince Edward Island. But also, there’s this general character of island people where everyone tends to know each other and each other’s stories, a whole world in microcosm. I’ve spoken to people from other island about this. I have cousins from Martha’s Vineyard and friends from some of the Hawaiian islands, and you often hear the same thing, same experience of seeing someone in the bank and they say “Oh, are you staying and so an so’s cottage this year?”And you just met the person in the bank.

Spec Can: I love that closeness that islands can bring for people. How about you, personally – how do you think being from Prince Edward Island (PEI) has shaped you?

Regina Hansen: It probably shaped my sense of humour, the turns of phrase I use, the kinds of flowers I like, the fact that I like flowers at all! Seriously, the kinds of baking I do. My grandmother taught me to read and crochet. Spending every summer with my grandparents after we moved away, it helped me to appreciate peace and quiet, and clean air, and knowing when certain plants grow and what the tides are. Not being spoiled. I get a lot of that from both sides of my family, of course, but there are things I can do and that I know about that other people my age don’t know — everything from how to read a recipe using an oil stove to what sound certain birds make.

Spec Can: You mentioned that folk music was an important part of The Coming Storm. Can you tell us a little bit about how music has influenced your book and what inspired you to weave it through the story?

Regina Hansen: First of all, I come from a family of musicians. My father and brother are professional musicians. There are are also many performers on my mother’s side of the family. The kind of music in the book — folk or roots, music, fiddle music — that was something I heard all the time on the Island, on the radio and also live. Also my father has won awards for playing and promoting regional music and has a radio show called Bluegrass Island. There’s vocal music in the book, too. I’m an amateur singer — and have been taking lessons recently — I also used to play the trombone. All of this experience and training went into the book.

Spec Can: That is fantastic! Do you find that there is any Prince Edward Island folklore in the music you have encountered?

Regina Hansen: Yes, there are songs and tunes based on ghost stories and Island legends, like Lennie Gallant’s Tales of the Phantom Ship.

Spec Can: I always love a good ghost story. Could you tell us a little bit about some of the ghost stories you remember?

Regina Hansen: So some of them are very specific to the town where my Dad grew up and around there. There’s one about a woman who waited on a bridge for her son to return from seeing a girl she didn’t like. She died there, and now haunts the bridge — at least that’s what my Dad says. There are stories of people being seen in their homes when they were actually in the process of dying hundreds of miles away — some cultures call that a “fetch” although I never heard that term used. There are stories about the Devil showing up in disguise or of black dogs bringing omens. Some of these I heard from my family. Some were things kids talked about at swimming lessons.

I think you can hear these stories in a lot of places. I just happened to pay attention because like you I love a good ghost story.

Spec Can:You are living in Massachusetts now, have you noticed a difference between the way that ghost stories are told in Massachusetts versus how they are told in Prince Edward Island?

Regina Hansen: Interestingly there are a lot of similarities. There is a long historical connection between Massachusetts and Atlantic Canada.

I owe my existence to it.

Spec Can: Oh, fascinating! Can you tell us more?

Regina Hansen: Well, my parents met when my mother went up to the Island for school. She heard about what was then St Dunstan’s University from neighbours who were from PEI. Somerville, There was a period in the 70s when a third of the population of Somerville was originally from somewhere in the Maritimes. I still know people from Boston to Cape Cod who have family on Prince Edward Island, or in Antigonish or Cape Breton. My family and many others called the US the “Boston States.”

Spec Can: The Coming Storm is a Young Adult book. What got you interested in writing YA?

Regina Hansen: I’ve written all my life, but I focus on children’s and YA supernatural fiction because those were the books I most loved.They were my escape. They made my life better in every way. If I can, I would like to recreate for young readers the joy I experienced reading those books at 11, 12, 13, 14 years old. You know that feeling of hiding a way on a summer evening to read a book, that spiritual lift. I would love my work to do that for a kid.

Spec Can: What would it have meant to you to have a book like yours when you were a teen?

Regina Hansen: Honestly, in some ways I would just like to live up to some of the books I was lucky enough to read when I was a young teen. But I do think I would have liked to have encountered my heroine, Beet, as a teen. She’s strong and sort of vinegar-y. She’s from very limited means and has a lot of responsibility for a young girl, and she just does what she has to do. I personally understand that experience, and I also see in her women like my grandmothers and mother — good hearts in tough packages.

I really appreciate my agent and editor for not pushing me to decentralize the female character. Especially this character.

Spec Can: When is The Coming Storm coming out and how do we find it?

Regina Hansen: The Coming Storm is due summer 2021, so there’s a bit of wait still. It will be published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon and Schuster — and I couldn’t be happier.

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

Regina Hansen: Only that I feel honored to be interviewed about this work.

Spec Can: I want to thank you for a fantastic interview and for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with me today. I am extremely excited to read The Coming Storm when it comes out!!

Regina M Hansen is the author of the forthcoming young adult supernatural novel The Coming Storm (Atheneum Summer 2021). She teaches at Boston University and (as Regina Hansen) is the co-editor (with Susan George) of Supernatural, Humanity and the soul: The Highway to Hell and Back, author/editor of Roman Catholicism in Fantastic Film (McFarland 2011) and co-editor (with Matthew Parfitt and Stephen Dilks) of the reader Cultural Conversations: The Presence of the Past (Bedford-St. Martins, 2001). Her recent scholarship has appeared in Science Fiction Film and Television and the anthologies Neo-Victorian Families (eds. Christian Gutleben and Marie-Luise Kohlke, Rodopi 2011) and Fathers in Victorian Fiction (ed. Natalie McKnight, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2011). She is also a contributor to The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Filmic Monsters (ed. Jeffrey Weinstock, Ashgate 2014), and has reviewed for The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts.

Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD (They/them)

Stigma is Sticky

Stigma is StickyA review of Nalo Hopkinson’s The Chaos (Margaret McElderry Books, 2012)

By Derek Newman-Stille

As she frequently does, Nalo Hopkinson uses her novel The Chaos to disrupt hegemonic ideas of normalcy, questioning what is ‘normal’ and using the supernatural and magical to point out the way that the norms we create are equally strange. The Chaos takes elements of fantasy, magical realism, and Lovecraftian weird fiction and blends them with a surreal sense of a world where anything can happen. 

When a volcano suddenly appears out of Lake Ontario, the world becomes populated with creatures of myth and magic that disrupt the categories we use to impose a sense of order on our world – the rolling calf, tar babies, fish who swim upstream through lava, Horseless Head Men, and an archaeopteryx that may also be a phoenix. Story and place intermix in a way that illustrates the way that we already impose stories on our landscape to limit it. Hopkinson illustrates that we are always in a world of stories and that we create our own stories to understand ourselves and others. 

The Chaos presents a world where the thoughts and stories we tell ourselves enter into our world, shaping us physically like they do mentally and socially. When people in Hopkinson’s world are able to see the mythic, it changes their relationships to each other, and their relationship to themselves. The Chaos is as much about identity as it is about magic. The altered space of the Toronto landscape disrupts a sense of ‘home’, allowing characters to question their notions of belonging and how they fit into their world and communities.

The name of Hopkinson’s protagonist, Sojourner, literally ‘a stranger in a strange land’ highlights the sense of powerful estrangement that shapes her tale. She is a teen who has experienced stigma all of her life, being bullied and slut-shamed as a younger teen, and being perceived as constantly other than she is – seen as too white to fit in with black peers and too black to fit in with white peers. She has created her group of outsiders that have created their own brand of belonging. Yet, her body is under change as a sticky, black tar like substance begins spreading across her skin, changing her and her relationship to her body. She is becoming different and uncertain to herself, and yet her uncertainty about herself may serve to give her further self knowledge about the stories she uses to narrate her own life.

Hopkinson illustrates the way that change is resisted by those in hegemonic power as mobs of people begin targeting people with disabilities, those who are non-white, and those who identify as queer, seeing them as part of the “chaotic changes” happening in their world. In particular, she examines the role of police causing more damage in their attempts to control the change they see happening around them. Hopkinson points out the way that ableism, homophobia, and racism show themselves more blatantly when “normalcy” is disrupted. When bodies and minds are disrupted.

In The Chaos, the boundaries of categories that seek to separate things are broken down and the world’s complexities cease to be able to be ignored as individual perceptions because they have become physical. Hopkinson’s surrealist word painting of the world, despite its strangeness, only serves to underscore the strangeness of normalcy. Reading this tale allows us all to become Sojourners as we return to our own strange world, questioning it.
To discover more about The Chaos, visit http://www.simonandschuster.ca/books/The-Chaos/Nalo-Hopkinson/9781442459267 

To find out more about the work of Nalo Hopkinson, visit http://nalohopkinson.com/

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 60: An Interview with Caitlin Sweet

This year at SF Contario I had the opportunity to meet with Caitlin Sweet. She was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to be interviewed for Speculating Canada. In this episode, Caitlin Sweet and I discuss the Aegean Bronze Age (particularly talking about the Minoan people), mytho-historic fiction, magic, YA fiction, and mythology.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below.

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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.

To discover more about the work of Caitlin Sweet, visit her website at http://caitlinsweet.com/ .

Timelines

Timelines
A review of Joanne Findon’s When Night Eats The Moon (Red Deer Press, 1999)By Derek Newman-Stille

Time travel is ultimately about responsibility – responsibility to the timeline, to the past, the present, and the future. Perhaps this is why it works so well for a Young Adult novel. In When Night Eats The Moon, Joanne Findon’s narrator, Holly, begins her voyage through time by idealising the past. She sees the past as an idealised place, separate from the issues of modernity and she wants to escape her personal circumstances (the tension between her parents and the shroud of secrets they have woven around her life) to find a reality that resonates with her desires. She has to cope with the clashing of fantasy and reality and the uncertain barrier between them. Rather than her fantasies being eclipsed by reality as occurs in so many coming-of-age narratives, Holly’s reality is expanded by the incorporation of the fantastic into her life and her fantasies are augmented by the infusion of the need for thinking about the real world impact of imagining.

Holly is placed on the edge of family secrets and forbidden knowledge beyond her understanding. Holly discovers a group of vessels filled with time that are able to transport her to the ancient past, letting her meet the builders of Stonehenge. During her voyage, she meets Evaken, a boy who has also discovered forbidden secrets in a Magician’s Apprentice narrative where he takes on magic for which he doesn’t yet have the wisdom to understand. This collision of times and secrets produces a space of healing, an integration of separate narratives, of stories divided by space and time. Holly is able to gain perspective on her own life when she encounters the violent collision of people in the past and is able to bring a perspective from the future to people in the past who need new tales to give them context on their complex world. 

Believing that she is powerless to change the world, Holly learns that she has the power to change the world. She has to come to terms with the responsibilities, challenges, and complexities of realising that she has meaning in her world and that her choices can alter the world. 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 48: A Discussion of the Work of Max Turner

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I interrogate the work of Max Turner, an author who explores the notion of the psychiatric institution through the perspective of a vampire. Turner sets his vampiric character in a former psychiatric institution in Peterborough Ontario called the Nicholls’ Ward. In this discussion of Max Turner’s work, I explore ideas of aging, coming-of-age narratives, expectations of young adult fiction, vampirism, assumptions about psychiatric institutions, and general ideas of home and belonging.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at 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. 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.

You can explore Max Turner’s work at http://maxturner.ca/

Psychiatric Vampirism

A review of Max Turner’s Night Runner (Harper Trophy Canada, 2008)
By Derek Newman-Stille

I am excited to be able to talk about a book that deals with Peterborough, the town that I have come to call home. Max Turner’s Night Runner takes place in the Nicholls’ Ward in Peterborough, the city’s former psychiatric facility. The Nicholls’ Ward closed in 2010 due to issues of cost for repairs and updating of equipment and spaces and it was moved over into the main Peterborough Regional Health Centre building. Throughout the building’s history, it was at various times used as offices for the hospital, archives, a nursing residence, a meeting space, and a library. It was only in its final years that the building was switched to primarily a psychiatric facility. 

Max Turner’s Night Runner takes a novel approach to the teen vampire story by setting the vampire initially in a psychiatric facility. Zach Thomson grew up in the Nicholls Ward after his parents died when he was young. Night Runner takes place when Zach is 15 years old. His experience of youth hasn’t been the same as that of other kids – which is not surprising because children rarely grow up in psychiatric facilities. But his experience is different from that of other children for a variety of health related reasons outside of his mental health. He has an allergy to sunlight, he has a limited diet and is allergic to most foods, and he has bouts of anger and silences that can last for days. Zach has been recognized by his nurses as being in need of specilized medical care. Growing up in a psychiatric ward, Zach has never considered himself normal and he isn’t even certain what ‘normal’ for a teen should be. 

Max Turner creates a novel that questions ideas of normalcy and appropriateness by disrupting ideas of what can be considered normal. He challenges the behaviour of society in ostracizing certain people because of their difference. By situating Zach in a psychiatric institution, Turner questions ideas of family and the type of people that can make up family, extending the idea of belonging to a wider group of very different individuals. 

Night Runner, like many Young Adult tales, is a story about self discovery and the idea of developing a purpose. Zach believes that his life so far has been one of uncertainty and a lack of purpose because he has been in a psychiatric facility all of his life uncertain about what is “wrong” with him and waiting for a cure for his various allergies. 

Turner explores vampirisim as a blood-based pathogen, an infection, but one that radically changes the body, and one that can be spread through the bite. It is also an infection that generally comes with an end date – as every vampire eventually experiences Endpoint Psychosis, a psychiatric illness as they reach the end of their lives and therefore radically change. It is appropriate that a story that deals with the idea of Endpoint Psychosis begins in a psychiatric institution where the same issues of determining “capacity”, self control, and selfhood are diagnostic features both for the psychiatric nurses and for the vampire council who kills vampires they see as being dangerously out of control due to Endpoint Psychosis. In both areas it is up to others in positions of power to determine mental health and ability.

Night Runner, like vampirism itself, is about radical change, coping with different social and emotional pressures and the process of discovery. 

To discover more about the work of Max Turner, visit his website at http://maxturner.ca

To discover more about Night Runner, visit  http://us.macmillan.com/nightrunner/maxturner

 

Writing Girls

Writing Girls
by Derek Newman-Stille

I have been reading a lot of teen lit recently and thinking about the representation of girls in literature, particularly teen lit written by middle aged men. One of the things that I keep noticing is that the representation of girls is often continuing to be enmeshed in tropes and assumptions about girls rather than recognizing the complexities of the teen female experience. It amazes me how many middle aged people (and men in particular) tend to write out their assumptions about how their daughters think about the world.gender question

A lot of teen lit tends to very accurately capture the voice of a middle aged adult’s opinions about teens… and very little about the actual teen’s experience of the world or the things she would consider to be important or evocative. Far too often, I have encountered male authors writing girls either as “this is what I thought of girls in high school” or “these are how I think my daughters encounter the world around them.” I have seen this particularly in the “um-like-ya-know” voice that authors often ascribe to teens… which both represents the snippets of conversation that they think they are hearing and the little tidbits of memory that they have from when they were teens (abstracted by age and years away from the teen experience and therefore turned into trifles).

Teen girls are complete characters, not just tropes that reflect our own assumptions about them. They are complex, have diverse motivations… they are HUMAN. They are not symbols of a changing world, icons of the deterioration of responsibility, or catty voices of a generation in trouble. So, when we see things like the “ugh-I-wish-I-could-talk-on-the-phone-all-day” or the “gosh-its-great-to-have-no-responsibilities” voices, we should recognise that these are tokenising teen experience and embodying the voices of adults who are speaking from a position of privilege rather than encompassing teen experiences.

I have focused here on girls rather than boys because the representation of male teens doesn’t tend to have as many problems (though there are still issues with the portrayal of male teens as not-particularly-bookish and more-action-oriented, as well as being stuck in the trope of how-do-I-become-a-man… which often devalues the complexity of their experience and tends to encourage male readers to ignore any aspect of their personality that is not within society’s view of masculine), but girls are still written about as shallow, needy, and incomplete, particularly when they are written about by male authors who tend to make assumptions about what girls are thinking that are more based on their own sexist, ageist way of viewing the world than they are revelatory of the teen experience. This is frustrating both from a social justice perspective as well as from the perspective of a reader who likes characters who are not one-dimensional. When authors write teens that are merely icons of social assumptions about femininity and youth, the story suffers as much as society does from the misrepresentation of girls and the continuity of the oppression of the teen female voice.

Behind the Wallpaper of the World

A review of Michelle Barker’s The Beggar King (Thistledown Press, 2013)

cover photo of The Beggar King courtesy of the author

cover photo of The Beggar King courtesy of the author


By Derek Newman-Stille

In The Beggar King, Michelle Barker explores the potential of the fantasy medium for creating a deep coming-of-age story. Jordan is a boy on the cusp of adulthood and in his society youths his age normally receive a talent, a gift that will help them to determine their career – either they are good at firing arrows, have an aptitude for prophesy, or some other gift that will allow them to chose a career path. But, Jordon’s gift hasn’t appeared yet. He has an ability to leap from building to building, and a skill at stealing from the marketplace, but what he really wants is a clear talent and an uncomplicated path to the future. But things keep getting more complicated for him.

Jordan encounters the dark figure from his culture’s mythology, the Beggar King, a being who uses undermagic, a forbidden type of magic that has been locked away because it could only be used for evil purposes and tended to turn on those who used it. Shortly after he first sees this dark figure, his community is invaded by the Brinnians, people who not only don’t respect his people’s traditions, but actively engage in activities that would be considered sacrilegious – hanging dead bodies from their sacred tree, killing sacred deer, and burning their sacred book.

When these invaders threaten to kill his mother, Jordan is told by friends and the Beggar King that he should consider opening the door to the undermagic that has been locked away in order to use its power to free his people.  Jordan is caught between a feeling that it is his cultural and religious duty to rid his community of invaders who engage in sacrilege and his knowledge that if he opens the door to the undermagic, he may be engaging in a sacrilege greater than any that these invaders could bring. Jordan discovers that he is one of the few who has the power to open the door to the undermagic – he has been given the gift to retreat outside of the world and disappear, he is the only one who can cross the Bridge of No Return that only the Beggar King can cross, and he has already opened the door to the undermagic a tiny crack…. he is uniquely positioned to either be the saviour of his people or bring about their downfall, and both friends and the Beggar King are playing on his desire to be exceptional, to prove himself, and to have a place in society by encouraging him to make a name for himself by opening the door to the undermagic. He discovers that some doors open for us, and some doors open within us.

This is a book about the in-between, that place that teens occupy as they search for identity as adults while rejecting their childhood identity. The in-between nature of this book stretches out into the position of Jordan as a person who is between the living and the dead when he crosses behind “the wallpaper of the world” to disappear as well as being the person who can open the doorway to the undermagic. He walks in those in-between places, hopping from rooftop to rooftop as he travels, and when he gains the power to become invisible, in the world between the places of our world and the underworld. But, the Holy City of Cir is itself a place betwixt and between – it is an island that can only be reached by bridges, and each bridge can only be crossed at certain times, with certain thoughts and behaviours – each bridge requires the individual to be in a certain mindset before it allows him or her to cross, whether that mindset is mischievous, meditative, or another frame of mind. When it becomes invaded, the Holy City of Cir becomes further liminal, being a place both of the Cirrans and the competing cultural influence of the invading Brinnians. It has become a city in the midst of a clash between traditional religion and the new capitalist imperialism brought by the Brinnians. Jordan is also in a morally liminal place, pulled in different moral directions and stuck with uncertainty about magic and undermagic because of the presence of these moral and cultural Others.

The Beggar King reinforces this ambiguity, being both a figure that is in inside and outside of the world, appearing on its fringes, but unable to appear to everyone (only to those suited to open the gateway to the undermagic). Even the term Beggar King is liminal, positioning him between poverty and wealth. Before attaining the power of undermagic, the Beggar King was a sin eater, a scapegoat for his culture who had to eat food that was filled with the sins of the households he begged from.

Using these liminal characteristics, Barker suffuses her world with the inherent contradictions that come with youth and the transition to adulthood – the uneasiness and questions that come with transformation and change. Although early in the narrative, prophets see Jordan as a ‘little boy wearing too-big shoes’, his encounters with other aspects of the fringes, other betwixt and between spaces, helps him to grow into those shoes and face an uneasy destiny rather than the one of ease and fame which he would have chosen. He discovers that one never knows the full picture and that when one acts unilaterally, even when he thinks it is the best thing for his community, he brings greater trouble to them. Only by accepting his role as a member of a greater community and recognising the diversity of skills and strengths within the people around him can he gain a complete understanding of the situation that faces him and take actions that are in support of others rather than in service to his own desire to be famous. By observing the emperor who has conquered his territory as well as his own choices, he comes to understand that arrogance is one of the greatest forms of ignorance.

To discover more about Michelle Barker’s work, visit her website at http://michellebarker.ca/ . To pick up a copy of The Beggar King, visit  Thistledown Press at http://www.thistledownpress.com/index.cfm .

Interview with Anna Frost

An interview with Anna Frost

Author image of Anna Frost.  Anna Notes: "This was taken in Nara, Japan, in 2008. Nara is a popular destination because of its numerous temples and its tame sika deer. They close in rather quickly when they figure out you’ve got deer crackers in hand! "

Author image of Anna Frost.
Anna Notes: “This was taken in Nara, Japan, in 2008. Nara is a popular destination because of its numerous temples and its tame sika deer. They close in rather quickly when they figure out you’ve got deer crackers in hand! “

By Derek Newman-Stille

Anna Frost is the author of The Fox’s Mask and The Fox’s Quest, both fantasy novels that are set in ancient Japan and feature Japanese mythical beings. As a Teen Fiction (YA) author, she pushes genre boundaries and brings in characters that question norms.

Spec Can: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself to begin this interview?

Anna Frost: I’m a French-Canadian girl with hermit tendencies and a fondness for World of Warcraft player vs player fights. My house is full of chinchillas and ferrets and therefore impossible to keep clean for longer than five minutes.

Spec Can: What inspired you to set your novel The Fox’s Mask, in Ancient Japan?

Anna Frost: I’ve been reading manga (Japanese graphic novels) and watching anime (Japanese animation) since high school. Add in a few years of Japanese language classes, a month-long trip to Japan, and a fascination with Japanese fox shifters (kitsune). That kind of prolonged exposure was bound to influence the ideas that pop out of my head.

Spec Can: Why do you think so many authors set their fantasy novels in a world that is reminiscent of the Western Middle Ages instead of places like Japan? Why do they seem disinclined to explore Japan as a site of fantasy?

Anna Frost: I think people are inclined to write what they know, or at least start there. Because North American writers have a general cultural awareness of what the Middle Ages were like, it’s a logical starting point for world building. It takes effort to use a different culture as the base and even more efforts to spin out a story that is respectful of the model culture. People may also be afraid they’ll make offensive mistakes. It’s certainly something I worry about, but I think it’s better to try and fail than not bother trying.

Spec Can: What fascinates you most about Japanese myth?

Anna Frost: Generally speaking, I love how different their mythology is. My favorite example is the contrast between the Japanese fox shifter and the European werewolf. The mythical werewolf has no depth: it’s a terrifying man-eating beast. The fox shifter, however, is not so limited. It can be malicious in its tricks, but it can also be benevolent. It can even be portrayed as a seducer of men.

Spec Can: What were some of the issues that came up as a non-Japanese Canadian writing about Japanese subject matter?

Photo courtesy of Musa Publishing

Photo courtesy of Musa Publishing

Anna Frost: It’s frequent for me to have to do extra research to understand certain aspects or details of Japanese culture. Everything related to religion is especially tough, because not only do I lack any sort of personal experience with Buddhism and Shintoism, the way these two religions coexist in Japan seems unique. Today the Japanese do not seem to consider them separate at all. I’ll spare you the historical reasons for it, but it’s both extremely interesting and difficult for an outsider to grasp and portray properly.

Spec Can: What inspired you to make your kitsune characters capable of transsexual transformations?

Anna Frost: That part comes straight from Japanese mythology. A male fox can turn into a human woman as well as a female one can. It’s one big reason why I find the kitsune legends fascinating. 

Spec Can: When I was a teen, LGBTQ2 books were non-existent for teens. How is that changing now? Do you see there being more LGBTQ2 books for teens in the future?

Anna Frost: Author Malinda Lo recently compiled a graph that indicates that if you put all the main publishing houses together, LGBTQ books currently represent less than 1% of new YA books coming out every year. I’m sure this number will grow as society continues to shift in favor of equal rights.

Spec Can: Fantasy books tend to still be pretty heterosexist. What are some ways that authors can “queer” their fantasy books a bit more? How can authors bring more LGBTQ2 content into their novels and what are some of the challenges they may encounter?

Anna Frost: That’s a tough question because it would never occur to me NOT to have LGBTQ characters in my work. It’s simply part of my worldview. The best advice I can give is this: do your research, avoid stereotypes, and always remember that LGBTQ characters are no less human and complex than anybody else. They need motivations and goals unrelated to their sex life. My favorite fantasy books are the ones where being gay is roughly as strange as preferring white chocolate over milk/dark chocolate.

Spec Can: What are some of the things you hope your novels will do to inspire readers?

Anna Frost: I don’t have lofty aspirations. If the reader is entertained, I’m happy. If the reader has also learned something or been spurred to find out more about Japan, I’m extremely happy.

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

Cover photo courtesy of Anna Frost

Cover photo courtesy of Anna Frost

Anna Frost: I’d like to mention that Masque Books, a brand new imprint from Prime Books, will be publishing a new project of mine in the fall. I would call it a Japanese steampunk fantasy with a genderqueer main character. It’s got samurai on airships, giant sea serpents in the water, and steam mechas on the battlefield. The name is pending, but I’m sure it’ll be a fun one.

I want to thank Anna Frost for this fantastic interview and I encourage you to check out her novels at http://musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=180 . I am pleased that she was willing to share so many insights and was willing to talk about how easy it is to include LGBTQ2 characters without those characters being entirely and exclusively defined by their sexuality.

Upcoming interview with Anna Frost on Monday July 8th

Anna Frost is a Teen Fiction (YA) author of novels set in ancient Japan. This Monday July 8th, check out our interview and discussion about writing Japanese culture as a French Canadian, why fantasy authors so often favour a Western Medieval world context for their novels, cultural awareness and the dangers of writing about a culture that is not one’s own, myth, writing queer/ LGBTQ characters, and exploring trans characters.

Here are a few teasers for our upcoming interview:

Anna Frost: “It takes effort to use a different culture as the base and even more efforts to spin out a story that is respectful of the model culture. People may also be afraid they’ll make offensive mistakes.”

Anna Frost: “LGBTQ books currently represent less than 1% of new YA books coming out every year. I’m sure this number will grow as society continues to shift in favor of equal rights. “

Anna Frost: “That’s a tough question because it would never occur to me NOT to have LGBTQ characters in my work. It’s simply part of my worldview.”

Anna Frost: “My favorite fantasy books are the ones where being gay is roughly as strange as preferring white chocolate over milk/dark chocolate.”

Check out our upcoming interview to see some of Anna Frost’s tips on how to avoid cultural and sexual stereotypes and create strong, realistic, deep characters. If you are not familiar with her work, you can explore my review of Anna Frost’s The Fox’s Mask at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/transformations/ , and you can explore her novels at http://musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=180 .