We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Norse Mythology Updates To Talk About A Comic Book

From Prairie books NOW Fall 2011 issue:

Has She No Shame?

Comic explores good, evil, and all things in between…

“What would Batman be without the Joker? How about Van Helsing without Dracula?”

These are questions Lovern Kindzierski muses on when explaining why he prefers villains to heroes. But for the Winnipeg comic creator, it is also an aesthetic decision.

“The villains always had the best designed costumes. Think of Maleficent. She was so much more attractive than the dumpy fairy godmothers.”

It was on his honeymoon that Kindzierski first conceived of the story of Shame, which has now come to fruition in the first of three graphic novels, Shame: Conception. He entertained his new bride with a tale “about the nastiest woman that ever lived.” His wife then held him hostage with a pen and notepad the next morning until he’d written this first arc of the story.

Shame, an outwardly beautiful child was born to physically hideous, but kind, Mother Virtue, when the healer allowed herself one selfish wish—a child of her own. It was from this wish and the meddling of the demonic entity Slur that Shame came into the world. Mother Virtue knew what her daughter would become and so locked the child away in a personal Eden, a place named Cradle. Only there could Shame be safe from the influence of her father.

“I very much like the idea that shame would come from virtue.” Kindzierski says, noting how exhilarating it was to tell this story for the first time. As he was making up the tale, he rolled through the associations of the word shame, and the story became clearer and clearer to him.

“The power of such loaded archetypes just swept me along like a straw being driven by a tornado,” he says.

When Shame embraces evil, Kindzierski’s words are given unsettling weight by his artist collaborator, John Bolton. Cradle’s idyllic cage becomes twisted and bizarre.

“He is a genius,” Kindzierski says of Bolton, feeling  there could not be any artist better or more appropriate to illustrate Shame: Conception. “John is able to portray all of the extremes of beauty and horror of the story and do it all masterfully. As an artist he has no weaknesses.”

Kindzierski, an artist himself, is best known in comics as a colourist.

“I had been writing my own stories for my comic art from way before I broke into the industry,” he says. Nothing came of these first efforts, but eventually Kindzierski’s art got him work in the field. A short story for a Marvel Comics fund raiser was well received and “as I wrote more I got more to write,” he says.

To Kindzierski the great strength of comics as an art form “is that they mainline directly into your understanding of the story,” working on a conscious and unconscious level with their combination of imagery and the written word.

Our understanding of this particular story will deepen in the next two books of the trilogy. Shame’s corruption “has become like a cancerous growth on the face of the world,” Kindzierski says, teasing at a swelling body count now that Shame is free from her prison.

“I like my heroes dark and my villains darker.”

National Aboriginal Day

Today is National Aboriginal Day in Canada. I hope that my readers will take a moment or two to think about the many contributions Aboriginal people have made to Canadian culture. In 2009, I attended the Ogamas Brandon Aboriginal Literary Festival and was humbled by the talent and kindness of folks like Richard Van Camp and Niigaanwewidom James Sinclair.

Author Harold Johnson was the first person to comment on my website, and as such I thought it fitting that I post my interview with him today. I found Harold fascinating (and he was so prompt returning my interview questions–always a good way to impress a freelancer!). Since our interview, Harold’s novel The Cast Stone has also won the Saskatchewan Book Award for Fiction.

Glass Houses (this interview originally appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of Prairie Books NOW.)

Before Canada sets off to invade other countries, Harold Johnson wants Canadians to imagine what it would feel like to be invaded., and to take it a step further. “If we begin to imagine the invasion of Canada, we must begin by imagining who might invade us,” says the author of The Cast Stone.

Johnson does not believe such an assault would come from Afghanistan, Russia or China, but more likely from our greatest ally. Given the still persistent belief that the 9-11 terrorists entered the US via Canada, it is hard to argue with his assumption.

In his novel, the world’s longest undefended border no longer exists; a dirty bomb set off in San Francisco saw to that. Canada’s perceived weakness was used as the impetus for annexation by the United States. Enduring the oppression of Homeland Security in what is now known as the North Division of America, it would seem there is little for most Canadians to do but hope for things to become better.

“Hope shares characteristics with regret,” says Johnson, who feels that both are useless. Hope “is a thief of the moment. Instead of hoping for a better world,” he believes “we need merely to make this moment better, and the world will be better.”

Ben Robe, a retired Political Science professor living in his childhood home of Moccasin Lake Reserve, is Johnson’s instrument of this better moment. A seeker of peace and balance, Robe is the voice of reason in this novel of uprising and resistance. He urges friends and family away from violence and scare tactics, believing rightly: “An angry dog is never as dangerous as a dog that is afraid. Cornered animals fight the hardest.”

Johnson likens Canda’s annexation in his novel to the centuries of occupation faced by the Aboriginal Peoples. While Canadians fight for their sovereignty, Ben says with no malice:

“Waweyatsin, now you know what it feels like.”

Harold Johnson, like Ben, lives “off the grid and on the trapline.” He has been writing all of his life, whether by lamp light as a boy or currently in the log home he built with his wife. There his surroundings and “the spirit of this place and time” inform his writing.

“‘Dystopian’ is a word applied to The Cast Stone by the publisher,” the author admits, “but to write honestly about war required that people were hurt, tortured, killed and that mothers would cry and fathers would be angry.”

To Johnson, the book is about balance and the search for it. Despite writing a story that displays a terrifying escalation of today’s theatre of security, Johnson does not feel that security has trumped liberty.

“Liberty is truth and truth will always assert itself. We will only surrender our liberty to the point we agree to surrender it,” he says.

“Truth can be captured and hidden, but it always escapes, it leaks, then like the hole in the dike, it floods.”

Born and raised in Northern Saskatchewan, Harold Johnson has a Master of Law degree from Harvard University. He has served in the Canadian Navy, and worked in mining and logging. Johnson is the author of two novels, Billy Tinker and Back Track, both set in northern Saskatchewan against a background of traditional Cree mythology and both shortlisted for Saskatchewan Book Awards. His most recent publication Charlie Muskrat was been shortlisted for a Saskatchewan Book Award.

Johnson practices law in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, and balances this with operating his family’s traditional trap line using a dog team.

Lucky Number

Susie Moloney won the inaugural Michael Van Rooy Award for Genre Fiction at the Manitoba Book Awards on Saturday, April 28th. Here’s our interview from the Summer  2011 issue Prairie books NOW talking about her winning work, The Thirteen.

Lucky Number

Susie Moloney believes all women have a little bit of witchery in them.

“We have such power as mothers and lovers. We can make or break you, us girls,” she chuckles.

But Moloney’s witches in her new novel The Thirteen are by no means a benevolent troupe of new age pagans, and their home, Haven Woods, is no ordinary suburb.

These witches have been making and breaking folk for years. With the surprising suicide of one of their circle, they must fill the void, or pay the consequences. Paula Wittmore, is unknowingly a witch’s child, and the circle’s best chance to return their number to thirteen. And 12-year-old Rowan, Paula’s innocent daughter, would make a fine gift to the witches’ dark god.

The Thirteen began its life as a television project, featuring “an odd little street in a suburb, on which lived a number of odd and supernatural people,” explains Moloney. This idea spawned short stories and a novella featuring the relationships of these strange neighbours. Neighbours to Moloney are like family.

“You can’t really pick ‘em,” she says.

These stories became the foundation of a novel, her first since 2003’s The Dwelling. By turns macabre, funny and gruesome, The Thirteen is a lightning paced narrative that explores ideas of women, power, family and sisterhood.

Moloney, who grew up in the suburbs, once thought “every house, every family was the same.” And while she may have run away screaming when she was of age, like with her character Paula Wittmore, time and circumstance drew her back. As an adult she realized that “the old saw about how all happy families are the same, but unhappy families are unhappy in their own way, was very true.”

Witches and human sacrifice are not the only horror of The Thirteen. Moloney also speaks of the “close quarters” and “what you can hear when the wind is right;” of the daily grind to pay a mortgage or raise a family. It can be a life of quiet desperation. She imagines late at night “you can hear the snap of something turning bad;” and “knowing it happens and you can’t see it until it’s too late” is what’s truly unsettling.

This aura of menace lingers throughout The Thirteen, given form by the Chapman House, where the witches initiate new members and make their sacrifices. Every small town and community has a similar place, where a crime has transcended its origins to enter the local lore. It is a house Moloney would want to go inside to “imagine those last, terrible moments” but she also acknowledges that such an act would stick with her forever and keep her up at night.

Moloney doesn’t discount more tales featuring her Haven Woods witches—either short pieces about individual coven members or a tale that continues Rowan’s story. But the author warns Rowan’s story “would be particularly twisted.”

Any one of us could also inspire such a twisted tale.

“We are all the root of our own evil. We have our demons that stay with us, demons from our childhood, things we saw, heard, did. Horror is within; how it comes out depends on when we’re vulnerable.”

Chilling Tales

You can blame David Jón Fuller for today’s post. I realized I hadn’t chimed in for a while, and then David reposted one of his old articles, and I thought: “Shit. I can do that too!”

The anthology Chilling Tales Evil Did I Dwell; Lewd Did I Live was one of the books on my shortlist for the Prix Aurora Awards. It includes work by such Canadian genre luminaries as Robert J. Wiersema, Sandra Kasturi, Brett Alexander Savory, David Nickle, Claude Lalumière, and Gemma Files. Chilling Tales also included many of my favourite short stories of last year. So here’s the interview I did with editor Michael Kelly in early 2011.

Chilling Tales Evil Did I Dwell; Lewd Did I Live

Michael Kelly, Editor

Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy

$14.95 pb, 224 pages

ISBN: 978-1-894063-52-4

Underneath that cool Canadian reserve, a dark heart beats, believes Michael Kelly, editor of Chilling Tales: Evil Did I Dwell; Lewd I Did Live.

Chilling Tales features stories from Canadian horror fiction mainstays Brett Alexander Savory, Sandra Kasturi, and Nancy Kilpatrick, as well as some of the nation’s brightest (or should that be darkest) up and comers such as Gemma Files. Robert J. Wiersema, best known for his literary fiction, leads off the collection with a honky-tonk infused ghost story.

Kelly sensed a distinctly Canadian worldview, a “tangible loneliness” and “disquieting solitude” permeating the stories of his collection. But he feels Canadian writers are “merely doing what comes naturally—in this vast, sprawling land of ice and prairies, of wind and rock and water, of major urban centres encroaching on the barrens with spreading tendrils—exploring the other, that vastness.”

Anthologies such as Chilling Tales have been something of a rarity, although Don Hutchinson’s Northern Frights series left “an indelible impression” upon Kelly.

“There’s no easy answer,” he says, of the dearth of all-Canadian horror collections. “Part of it, I surmise, might be that Canadian genre writing is somewhat marginalized by the bigger publishing houses.”

It’s no surprise to Kelly that the two most recent such volumes were published by Chilling Tales’s publisher, Brian Hades at Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy. “It is the smaller houses with an indie spirit that will take a chance on a project like this.”

Kelly felt it was time to showcase Canada’s dark heart. There was no open call for submissions; instead he went hunting for authors that “shared that strange dark worldview” he was conjuring.

“I also mentioned that they could recommend some authors to me, as well. It was a bit of word-of-mouth and also me soliciting authors I admired.”

A writer himself, the Pickering, Ontario-based, Shirley Jackson Award-nominated Kelly enjoyed the challenge of editing the collection.

“There’s a certain order to the stories, a flow, whether you’re moving from something short and shocking, to something literary and poetic, to something prosaic. It’s a balancing act,” he says. “When I’m writing fiction, I just want to tell a story. I’m writing for me, though, no one else. When I’m editing a commercial anthology, I’m cognizant of the reader.”

The result? An eminently readable, page turning collection, tales that leap from the page, burrowing into you. It is as if the authors are kids around a campfire, each trying to one up the other with the imaginatively macabre. From ghosts, to issues of faith, to the very unusual skin condition in David Nickle’sLooker”, Chilling Tales has a velocity that keeps its reader huddled up for just one more story.

“I’m hoping this first volume will act as a benchmark for future volumes,” says Kelly. “I wanted to show that Canadian writers can be as literate, entertaining, edifying, and as scary as their contemporaries. Of course, I already knew that. Now, everyone will know.”

Chadwick Ginther is a writer and bookseller living in Winnipeg.