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Tesseracts 17 Interview: Patricia Robertson

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 is now out with tales from Canadian writers that span all times and places.

Today, I give you the last interview of the authors in Tesseracts 17: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast, from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy. It’s not quite a complete set as I don’t have Vince Perkins from New Brunswick, nor Jason Barrett from Northwest Territories. However, should they eventually contact me I will include their interviews. You can find their bios listed for Tesseracts here. Last in the table of contents and our other Yukon author, is Patricia Robertson.

CA: “The Calligrapher’s Daughter” has the feel similar to tales like The Arabian Nights, or The Steel Seraglio. It mixes lesson and observation but in a subtle telling. Were you following a particular literary form when you wrote this?

I was aware that it was a fable, a form or mode I feel we need much more of as a means of responding to our increasingly nightmarish “reality.” Fables deal with archetypes rather than highly realized characters (which is why the calligrapher’s daughter is called that throughout the story rather than given a name). That said, I was conscious of the form without being inhibited by it (I hope!)

CA: Your world is vivid in description and feeling. What did you research in the process of this creation?

I love exploring worlds I don’t know and have been interested in Islam and Arabic history for a long time, ever since I lived in Spain (where the Arabs ruled for 700 years). I do lots of research in both books and on the Net to get the details right, or, where I’m inventing, so I know I’m deliberately altering or embellishing “reality.” Though I’ve discovered that there’s really nothing you can make up—so-called fantasy is only such in our current idea of what constitutes reality!

CA: We’ve had stories set in the modern world (the majority), a few other worlds and those in far space, with a smattering in the past and the future. Yours is the only setting that looks at Middle Eastern history. Why did you choose this setting and do you think your tale would have been as effective if told from another culture’s point of view?

As I explained above, Arabic history fascinates me (the setting here is actually North Africa). I’d recently written a suite of four novellas/short stories all linked by the theme of illegal migration and set in Spain and Morocco, so I suppose the setting was fresh in my mind. And I’ve always found the Arabic script incredibly beautiful, with its flowing curves. At some point I stumbled on the fact that there were female calligraphers early on in the development of calligraphy as an art form.

Arabic stories, calligraphy, speculative fiction, fables, fantasy, Yukon authors

Patricia Robertson creates a world of beauty and values in The Calligrapher’s Daughter.

All of that means I can’t imagine the story from another culture’s point of view! It’s too specific to this one, although I’m sure there were female calligraphers in other traditions.

CA: While following the norms of her society, the Calligrapher’s Daughter manages to find strength of purpose. Do you think that people who are under the strictures of their culture, which may give unfair advantages to some and not to others, can still find a strength of purpose and prevail?

I think people do that all the time. There are always people who, through a combination of talent and tenacity and opportunity, forge lives for themselves that may be unusual or somewhat outside the norm. They usually pay a price for such behavior, too. Researching the story reminded me that history provides much more nuance than we usually see—women in such cultures are not always, in all conditions, “oppressed.” Cracks and byways and interstices can be found, or created.

CA: This was such a rich world. Have you used it in other stories and what will we be seeing from you in the future?

As I said earlier, I love exploring different worlds, so no, I haven’t used this one in other stories and probably won’t use it again. At the moment I’m working on a young adult fantasy called How to Talk to a Glacier as well as completing a third book of short stories. And I have a short adult novel, a fantasy, in mind too.

Born in the UK, Patricia Robertson grew up in British Columbia and received her MA in Creative Writing from Boston University. She has published two collections of fiction: City of Orphans, which was shortlisted for the BC Book Prizes (Fiction), and The Goldfish Dancer: Stories and Novellas. Her work was selected for both Best Canadian Stories 2013 and Best Canadian Essays 2013, and has been shortlisted for the Journey Prize, the CBC Literary Awards, the Pushcart Prize, and the National Magazine Awards (three times). She is currently the first writer-in-residence at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library in Kingston, ON.

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Tesseracts 17 Interview: Dianne Homan

surreal worlds, SF, metaphor, Tesseracts 17, anthologies

Dianne Homan’s world is regimented and plastic, in M.E.L.

Today we hit the Yukon, nearly the end of the interviews for Tesseracts 17, Dianne Homan’s dystopian world in M.E.L.

CA: M.E.L. was a very bizarre world, yet reminiscent in feel (not setting) of other dystopian futures, such as Logan’s Run, or even the morlocks of Orwell’s The Time Machine. Did you draw on any such existing tales for this setting?

I actually don’t read science fiction so I can’t say I drew on any literary worlds. I have a huge aversion to plastic—packaging, toys, utensils, etc., so I imagined a world coated in the stuff as something my protagonist would have to get past, get through, get under.

CA: In some ways your story could be taken as metaphorical. Would you say there is a metaphor you’re using in this?

Never thought of it metaphorically. One of the main points in this story is that, if we are tuned in to earth, there is knowledge that comes to us without our being able to pinpoint the source of our knowing—like M.E.L.’s knowing about dirt and W.W.B.’s knowing about bugs.

CA: This world has a regimental control of people’s lives. While it is a different world, do you think parts of our world are as regimented as this, for good or for ill?

The thing about our world that concerns me most is the control of, dare I say everything, by

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 is now out with tales from Canadian writers that span all times and places.

the corporate powers. They control what the media tells us, what schools teach, what is available on the market, etc. They can’t control what we learn from the earth although they can make fun of, and try to minimize the importance of, that knowledge.

CA: Do you think we will see a future where our environments will become more artificial to survive environmental changes?

No. I, unfortunately, sense that we have passed an environmental tipping point, and that there is not much hope for survival of most life forms on the earth. That said, I think there is still so much potential for beauty and love and heroism that I feel blessed to be living on this planet.

CA: What other projects are you working on?

I am currently teaching grade 1/2/3 in a small rural school, and my work load is so intense that I have no brains left for writing when I end my work day. Writing projects are on hold, but all are fictional and all have love of the earth as their guiding principle.

Dianne Homan was born in Englewood, NJ, across the river from the bustling-est city on earth. She now lives a world, and a continent, away in a log cabin off-grid in the wilderness outside Whitehorse, Yukon. She is an arts education advocate and enjoys nothing more than incorporating art, drama, music and dance in her work as a teacher and in her imaginings as a writer. Her stories and essays have appeared in anthologies and magazines, and she co-edited two volumes of Urban Coyote.

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Tesseracts 17 Interview: Catherine MacLeod

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 is now out with tales from Canadian writers that span all times and places.

Today I interview Catherine MacLeod, who lives in Nova Scotia. Tesseracts 17 is available in bookstores and through the internet.

CA: Pique Assiette deals with a secret and a fear, and how they twine together. Yet your character does not succumb to the darkest parts of either of these. Why did you choose not to go down that path?

Mostly because it would’ve been too easy. Myself, I’ve taken the easy way out too many times. I wish I could say I’m better than that, but I’m not. But it makes me feel better if my characters are.

CA: The technique of pique assiette was fascinating to read about and it parallels the mosaic aspect of your character’s life as she pieces together her destiny. Where did you first come across the craft and the idea for this story?

I first read about it in an old “Martha Stewart’s Living” at the Laundromat. The photo accompanying the article showed a patio table topped with pieces of smashed pottery. Beautiful. I wasn’t interested in trying it, but I liked the idea of it enough to keep researching.

CA: Do you think most peoples’ lives are mosaics, where some pieces take longer to assemble, like a puzzle before they’re truly understood?

Absolutely. Most of them never get finished. I use this theme a lot in my stories. Every choice, idea, stroke of luck, is a piece of the big picture.

CA: Your story could have been a tale of redemption or revenge, yet it is one of acceptance. Is this what you set out to accomplish or was it a

horror, fantasy, speculative fiction, mosaics, Tesseracts 17

Catherine MacLeod writes of mosaics and murder in Pique Assiette.

natural evolution?

It felt natural to me. I’m come to an age where I’ve realized that the best thing about banging your head on a brick wall is stopping–if you can’t fight something, you have to find a way to live with it. But I think this is a revenge story, too–things aren’t likely to end well for Diane’s latest customer.

CA: What other pieces are you working on that you care to share with us?

My story “The Attic” will be in Ellen Datlow’s anthology Fearful Symmetries, coming out next spring from CZP. That sale meant I could cross quite a few things off my bucket list.

Nova Scotian writer Catherine MacLeod’s short fiction can be found in On Spec, Solaris, Black Static, TaleBones, and several anthologies, including Horror Library #4, Tesseracts Six, Tesseracts Fourteen, and The Living Dead 2. She is haunted by Astor Piazzola’s music, Andrew Davidson’s prose, and Derek Jacobi’s voice.

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Tesseracts 17 Interview: Lisa Smedman

Tesseracts 17 has authors from across Canada. Today’s interview is with BC writer Lisa Smedman, a long time writer and game designer. Her story “2020 Vision” examines the logical side of religion.

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 is out this month with tales from Canadian writers that span all times and places.

CA: Lisa, your story “2020 Vision” looks at cultlike behavior, politics, and the use of social media. It’s a very strong and disturbing, even ironic, social commentary. Religious topics can always be a very sensitive hotbed of opinion, or even rabid denunciations. What fascinated you enough to write such a story?

The story started from an anecdote a friend told, about being asked whether she believed in God. She said, “No, but I believe in Santa Claus.” That got me thinking about the nature of belief, and blind “faith” being the basis of so many religions. One could just as easily assert that Santa Claus really does exist, utilizing the same “prove he doesn’t” arguments used to assert that God exists.

The story also sprang from the idea that any religion that doesn’t allow one to question its practices and teachings, that doesn’t allow (or even punishes) its followers to laugh at the religion’s foibles, is setting a dangerous precedent, since it sets up the possibility of religious leaders twisting the religion to their own ends — ends that go unquestioned and are blindly obeyed.

To paraphrase the Emma Goldman quote about dancing and revolution: “A religion without laughter is not a religion worth having.”

Another big influence was the movie Life of Brian. In it, an ordinary, bumbling man is mistaken for Christ, and people begin to blindly follow him, hanging upon his every word and finding deep religious significance in his every action. My favorite scene is when a mob of religious fanatics is following him, and he discards a drinking gourd and loses one sandal. Half of the mob cries “We must follow the gourd!” and the other half cries, “No, we must follow the shoe!” and a fight breaks out over these two “sacred” objects as each half of the mob turns on the other. Religions are constantly dividing into smaller and smaller factions, every single one of them convinced that they are the “true” faith.

Canadian writers, speculative fiction, religious satire, SF

Lisa Smedman is the author of 17 novels, and a game designer.

I’ve often reflected upon why so many religions start out with the message “be nice to each other” and wind up teaching their followers to hurt, with words or deeds, or even to kill.

Life of Brian was boycotted by some Christians when it first hit movie theaters. Ironically, it portrays Christ and his message quite faithfully. When Christ says in his Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the meek,” a listener too far away to hear clearly interprets it as, “Blessed are the cheesemakers.” That so eloquently sums up how the original message of a religion can be mangled, by accident, due to translation errors (or be willfully skewed) and yet still regarded as gospel.

Another influence was a talk by the Dalai Lama I attended back in 1981. When asked about religions other than Buddhism, he compared the world’s religions to a smorgasbord, and encouraged people to “eat” whatever dishes most nourished them. Instead of saying “my religion is the only true one” he embraced all faiths that led one to become a better person. That, in my opinion, is what a religion should be: a practice one follows, “eating” only those portions of it that ring true, and rejecting (or perhaps politely declining) the rest.

CA: Do you think fanaticism is ever likely to have logic?

There is a “logic” to fanaticism, but it is a twisted logic. If you ask no questions, pull no threads, the fabric of belief hangs together. But pull one thread and it all unravels. Of course, the fanatics are wearing the “emperor’s clothes,” and never notice the holes.

CA: Have you explored this theme in other work?

I’ve explored many themes in my science fiction and fantasy writing. One I keep coming back to is the nature of identity. As an anthropology major, cultures fascinate me, especially the question of who “belongs” to a social construct and who doesn’t. How groups overlap, how boundaries mutate. Points of commonality that allow us to see other people as “one of us” and the myriad of ways we can divide “us” and “them.” We tend to see things in polarities: A or Z, ignoring all of the letters of the alphabet in between. This theme can be found in 2020 Vision, in the notion of who belongs to a religious group… and who does not, who is “in” and who is “out.”

A native Vancouverite, Lisa Smedman is the author of 17 science fiction and fantasy novels, numerous short stories, two best-selling books on Vancouver’s history, and dozens of roleplaying adventures, primarily for Dungeons & Dragons. She also writes plays and screenplays. Her fiction explores both Canada’s past (the steampunk Apparition Trail, set in the 1800s) and its possible futures. A journalist for many years, she currently teaches game design at the Art Institute of Vancouver. She hosts a biweekly writers group that grew out of the B.C. Science Fiction Association 30 years ago. She is also a mom to two humans, three cats and a pug.

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Social Media and a Couple of Regular Joes

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When I was at the recent World Horror convention in Austin, Texas I was looking forward to it for a number of reasons. It was a social event, a place to make professional connections, meet new friends, have a vacation and put names to faces. With email and social media I am sometimes communicating to people but I have no clue what they look like. I’m on the West Coast and the rest of Chizine staff are around Toronto and Montreal. Though I’ve met a few, there were many strangers and it was a good time to refresh the old acquaintances and meet the new ones.

Also, as part of SF Canada and the Chicago writers list Twilight Tales, there were names that I’d never put a face to. I got to meet John Everson and Sylvia Schulz, as well as seeing again Yvonne Navarro and Weston Ochse who I had met once years ago. I’d met Dave Nickle (Eutopia, Monstrous Affections), Gemma Files (A Book of Tongues, A Rope of Thorns) and Claude Lalumiere (The Door to Lost Pages) before, and Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi are friends. Still, I had last seen them in 2003. That’s a long time.

SF Canada is Canada’s professional speculative writers’ association and though we talk online we’re spread out through one of the world’s largest countries. We rarely get to meet in person. I met some of Chizine’s authors such as Bob Boyczuk (Horror Story and Other Horror Stories, Nexus: Ascension–I met him once many years ago), Brent Hayward (Filaria, Fecund’s Melancholy Daughter). I ran into fellow BC writer Sandra Wickham whose first two sales are in Edge Publications Evolve vampire series, as well as editor of Chilling Tales Michael Kelly, including authors Suzanne Church, John Nakamura Remy who read from Rigor Amortis (zombie love tales doncha know).

There were many other authors, old and new so it’s easy to be flooded with new names. And of course there was Joe, who again I’d only talked to through email. There he is working the con, in charge of the dealer’s room. I’m surprised because I know Joe is awfully busy working for CBC radio and that he doesn’t even get time to write much so I see his name and go, “Joe! So nice to put a name to a face. Colleen Anderson!” “Oh hi,” says he, looking perhaps a bit surprised or maybe that’s his natural look.

So in a typical effusive, friendly Canadian way I chat off and on to him all weekend. “Joe, I didn’t know you had books out. Through Pinnacle, really? Wow, Joe I didn’t know you were writing zombie fiction.” And of course I’m vaguely thinking. Wow, I thought Joe was too busy to write novels and geeze, he didn’t seem the zombie type. He’s never mentioned it but then of course, I’ve never met him and what he says on the rare occasion he posts to SF Canada is never about zombies. Well whaddya know.

So I spend all weekend acting like I kind of know Joe, virtually because I kinda did but only in that nebulous sense where you can say, hey we were at the same party and chatted about Degas. After all, WHC is partly about meeting people and having fun and putting names to faces, right?

Joe McKinney

Joe Mahoney

Well it was, but it  didn’t register until I was home and recovering from lack of sleep (I can blame it on that, can’t I?) that I’d mixed up my Joes. SF Canada’s Joe is Joe Mahoney and he works for CBC. The Joe I was talking to is Joe McKinney, zombie master. I also work with someone named McKinney. What do they have in common (the Joes)? Well I’d never met either before and they both write speculative fiction and they both have grey hair. Duh. Did I feel a fool.

You can see the two Joes here. They both have full cheeks and gray hair so considering I’d only seen a picture of Joe Mahoney once before I think I can understand my mistake. And poor Joe McKinney was either thinking, oh she’s just one of my fans or who is that crazy woman?

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