Canadian Caitlin Marceau talks about horror in film and a few Canadian authors of horror fiction today for Women in Horror Month.
Great Canadian Horror
When you think of great American horror authors, a myriad of names come to mind: Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, Anne Rice, Dean Koontz, Shirley Jackson… the list goes on and on. When we think of great British horror authors, there’s also no shortage of names: Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Clive Barker, M. R. James, Neil Gaiman, Susan Hill… you get the picture.
But how many popular Canadian horror authors can you come up with?
It’s okay if you need a moment to think about it, most people do.
In truth, there aren’t many Canadian horror authors who are as popular or internationally renowned as those from other English language countries. Australia has the likes of Angela Slater, Kirstyn McDermott, and Greig Beck, and even New Zealand has Maurice Gee, but when you mention Canadian horror most people stare into the distance and come up empty.
Although there are a few powerhouse names that can be found here in the great white north—like Black Christmas’ Roy Moore, Ginger Snaps’ John Fawcett, and horror twins Jen and Sylvia Soska—few of them are known for their literary contributions. Even David Cronenberg, praised internationally for his work (which includes The Fly, Dead Ringers, Scanners, and Shivers), is left out of the authorial conversation despite his reputation and having released his debut novel, Consumed, back in 2014.
But why does this matter?
Because storytelling is an invaluable tool in building a nation’s identity, an issue that Canada has struggled with since it was first formed. We’re a country with a complicated past, and an even bigger identity crisis. Summed up best in Earle Birney’s poem “Can. Lit.,” we’re a nation that’s always been at odds with ourselves, at odds with our history and origins, and at odds with what it even means to be Canadian (just ask someone from Quebec, Alberta, and Nunavut). Where other countries have fought to forge empires, to gain independence, and to find their place in the world, Canada has never really needed to. We didn’t revolt against England’s rule, our internal conflict between the French and the English never had the same violent conclusion that America’s Civil War had, and so—as Birney eloquently writes in his poem—”it’s only by our lack of ghosts/we’re haunted.”
Although, if Canadian women in horror have anything to say about it, hopefully not for long.
Horror fiction has always been a great way of bringing people together. It gives audiences a safe space to explore their deepest fears and understand national anxieties. Horror also allows people to explore socio-political issues in a visceral, engaging, and sometimes more approachable way. While film has been especially great at this (just look at 2017’s Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peele, which explores racial tension and problematic white liberalism in the United States or 1954’s Godzilla, by Japanese director Ishirō Honda, which explored the fear of nuclear weaponry), literary works have been effective in this too (including both Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, by American novelist Ira Levin, or Dracula by U.K. born Bram Stoker).
While Canada has a slew of great horror films that examine everything from gender issues to sexual assault through a cinematic horror lens, more and more female authors are doing their part to build Canada’s pantheon of horror creatures.
Nancy Kilpatrick is reinventing vampire lore through her Thrones of Blood series, and made speculative fiction with erotic undertones mainstream long before Stephenie Meyer. Kelley Armstrong is a fan favourite and legendary horror author, with her thriteen-book Otherworld series inspiring the show Bitten (2014-2016). Armstrong not only caters to adult horror fans, but has written several young adult trilogies (like the Darkest Powers & Darkest Rising series) which appeal to young readers and older ones alike. Her work features a diverse range of women, and explores both the idea of what it means to be a woman and what really makes a monster. Julianne Snow’s Days with the Undead series takes a northern approach to zombies, and breathes new life into an otherwise lifeless monster.
Canadian women are creating a national horror canon, are encouraging more women to get involved in the genre, and are inspiring new readers. It’s a legacy that—unlike Canada’s complicated identity crisis—will hopefully last for years to come.
Caitlin Marceau is a Canadian author and professional editor living and working in Montreal. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing, is a member of both the Horror Writers Association and the Quebec Writers’ Federation, and spends most of her time writing horror and experimental fiction.
She’s been published for journalism, poetry, as well as creative non-fiction, and has spoken about horror literature at several Canadian conventions. Her workshop “Bikinis, Brains, and Boogeymen: How To Write Realistic Women in Horror,” was acclaimed by Yell Magazine, and her first co-authored collection, Read-Only: A Collection of Digital Horror, was released in June of 2017.
As of 2018, she is the co-owner and CEO of Sanitarium, an indie publishing house dedicated to encouraging diverse voices in horror media.
If she’s not covered in ink or wading through stacks of paper, you can find her ranting about issues in pop culture or nerding out over a good book.