Derek Newman-Stille Interviews Marie Bilodeau

SF Canada is pleased to share a new interview from Derek Newman-Stille. They chatted with fellow SF Canada member Marie Bilodeau to find out what it’s like to write horror, as well as multiple speculative genres.

 

Interview with Marie Bilodeau on Writing Horror and Loving She-Ra

By Derek Newman-Stille

 

Derek Newman-Stille: “To start out our interview, can you tell readers a little bit about yourself?”

 

Marie Bilodeau: “I like to dabble in various genres of writing – I write science-fiction, fantasy, and horror, in both long and short forms. I’m also a professional storyteller, which means I stand up in front of audiences and tell either old tales, adapted ones, or some original works. Aside from that, I’m an event manager, a cupcake-lover, have many fluffy cats and love She-Ra. Perhaps am *in* love with She-Ra. …I think that pretty much covers it all.”

 

Derek: “Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s like to write across so many genres?”

 

Marie: “Certainly! It’s amazing! So, each genre is very firmly speculative fiction, meaning that there’s an element in it (usually in the world) that’s not quite of our world. It’s that worldbuilding aspect that I thoroughly love. In fantasy, you get to hurl fireballs. In science fiction, you can have space ships! In horror, monsters lurk in the shadows. And, best of all, you can have all of those things in the story and let the market figure it out!”

 

Derek: “Your science fiction often takes on horror elements as does your fantasy (I’m thinking specifically about your fairy tale work) – what generated your interest in horror and do you notice elements of it in your other work?”

 

Marie: “Horror is an amazing tool, because it’s so versatile. It can frighten, shock, repulse…it doesn’t matter, as long as it draws a reaction, often a visceral one. In my fairy tale inspired serialized novel, Nigh, I used horror in the tradition of fairy tales, often to warn, or correct behaviour. Which meant it also took on tones of existential horror, which you get at the heart of some stories, like Sleeping Beauty. Sure, she gets woken up. But, wait, she’s been sleeping for how long? Her world is gone? Not to mention all the other stuff that happens, depending on the version. That thread of horror isn’t often outright stated, but the reader often experiences it on an existential level. I have a short story coming in Jennifer’s Brozek’s 99 Tiny Terrors this year. It’s purely existential. Nothing happens except making tea and chatting with an old friend. But it’s visceral in what the reader knows, regardless of how the characters deal with it. That’s what makes horror so wonderful. It’s visceral, and often relies on universal experiences and archetypes to hit its target: the human heart.”

 

Derek: I can’t wait to read it!! I love existential horror! Horror has this amazing ability to unsettle the ordinary. Do you tend to use it to unsettle things and open unquestioned things up to questions?

 

Marie: “Definitely! With horror, as with any genre, you can get your reader to really question their own worldview (or find it reinforced!) But, to make it successful, the trick (which isn’t always easy to pull off), is not to outright state what you’re questioning. You have to craft the story in such a way that the reader ends up asking the question. That’s when you know you’ve hit home. The reader incorporated the story enough, lived in it, even in a brief piece of flash fiction, to inhabit it and see what was provided and, more importantly, what wasn’t mentioned at all. It means the story is now part of the reader, in the questions you’ve forced them to face. It’s one of the genres that benefits the most from a fine glitter dust highlighting just the right details.”

 

Derek: Relatedly, one of the things that I love about your sci fi is that no matter how alien your aliens are, they fundamentally say something about what it is like to be human. Can you tell us a bit about how you use the alien to comment on human experiences?

 

Marie: “That’s one of my favorite things! First, aliens are super fun to build! Like, how will you work? What culture propels you? What part of history got you to this point? How do you eat your food? DO YOU EVEN EAT! OMG you like music? But only as it shifts the tectonic plates of your volcanic world? BE MY VALENTINE, you amazing alien you!

…But I digress. Aliens and different societies allow us freedom from current political, cultural and religious human realities and offers a blank canvas upon which to draw our tale. I especially love using them in my short stories. For example, my “Out-of-Worlds-Planet-Cessation Extravaganza” story in Amazing Stories is funny with cool aliens and solid event management techniques, but it’s all about how the “bling” of things can get in the way of basic humanity. In my Analog short story “Molecular Rage,” I wanted to show how someone not fitting in due to random (and cruel) determinations can hurt not just the ostracized individual, but their entire family and culture. Also, how it’s generally a shitty thing to do.

Both those things could have been done in our world, with plenty of examples to (sadly) go around, but often I find the reader to be more receptive to something when they don’t start putting up personal listening walls because of their own set of beliefs.

It’s a flip from horror, in a way. In horror, you want to use the visceral common experience to strike home. Whereas in this case, striking home means taking them out of a common experience by placing them amongst aliens, and using shadows of our world to keep the darkest places familiar. The reader can then cast their own light there, and come to their own conclusions.”

 

Derek: Do you find that your stories are influenced by current issues and events? What are some events that have inspired you to fictionalize them and imagine their possibilities in other worlds?

 

Marie: “Definitely! Okay, so there are the Big Ideas and Big Events, which I think lots of people tackle super well and because they’re big ideas, lots of people use them in their fiction. They’re thematic, and often should be!

What I love best, however, are small ideas. I love taking things that amuse me, fascinate me, just make me damn curious, and writing about those.

For example, the Fyre Festival was an amazing failure of event management. I watched it go down live, glued to my screen in fascination. When the two documentaries came out, we invited friends over, made tiny cheese and arugula open-faced sandwiches for snacks, and watched them back-to-back. They created a fuller picture which was amazingly bad. I laughed, and flinched, so much. Anyway, out of that came the idea for “Out-of-Most-Worlds Planet Cessation Extravaganza.” It wasn’t a retelling of the Fyre Festival (nothing could top the original!), but it was inspired by it. A small idea, about bling blinding event managers to the impact of their vision (in this case, how it affected the island inhabitants).

It’s a small thread in a giant messy ball of crazy yarn that I pulled out of that story, but it worked for my writing voice.”

 

Derek: “What are some of the other small ideas that have influenced some of your work?”

 

Marie: “I lump family stories into small ideas (because they have a more personal reach, I suppose?), and have used quite a few in my works! Nigh is a bit of a retelling of one of my family legends, for example. My Irish great grandmother, Mary Grant, had a sister named Alexandrine (or cousin? Some close relative, anyway). My dad gave me Alexandrine’s old pocket watch a few years back, along with its mystery. We know she was engaged to the gentleman who gave her this watch, but they were never married. And we have no idea why. She kept this watch to her dying day (after a long life) and passed it down the family line until it became mine. Why would she keep it? Did the young man die? Did he vanish? What happened?

Out of that family legend I imagined Hector Henry Featherson, a World War I soldier in the throes of PTSD who steps into a fairy circle a hundred years ago only to step back out now, finding his world and love gone, but still able to make a difference…

I see those little ideas as more personal, I suppose, and more unique to each individual.”

 

Derek: I love the way an object can inspire a story. I know that Ray Bradbury used to use objects around his office to inspire stories. Do you find that you often use objects as inspiration for new narratives?

 

Marie: “I love ephemeral objects as part of my writing process. Things that are here for the duration of the story. A marked change in my writing space, welcoming the new story to tea. For the Destiny series, my main character was a florist, and I’d get flowers for my writing room. For some stories, I just change the lights on my keyboard to a specific pattern (I have a fast and fancy gaming keyboard). I used to switch locations completely at times, like going to a convent to write (when leaving the house was a thing). Failing that, I now cater my little writing space for each story. So, I guess it’s not so much as items necessarily inspiriting the tale, but more items helping to create the right atmosphere for the story.”

 

Derek: You mentioned that you also do storytelling work. How has the current pandemic climate changed that kind of work for you?

 

Marie: It’s honestly blown it completely up! There are online storytelling gigs, but love having the audience in the room with me. They’re a part of the story. Their reactions inform how I tell the story. Their energy feeds me. I’d prefer waiting for those moments of magic to be possible again then try to capture a fraction of it online. Some people pull it off spectacularly well! But it’s not the teller I am. I’m hoping that vaccinations will make spooky tellings possible this fall. It’s my favourite telling time of the year!

 

Derek: You know I have to ask about your love of She-Ra. What inspired your adoration of her and has she inspired any characters in your own stories?

 

Marie: “I loved watching She-Ra as a teen. She was kickass, wore heels and a cape, was kind and a healer, fought an evil empire, rode a magical flying unicorn…what more could I ask for??? I loved that she represented strength, while still being feminine. That she wielded a sword and still healed. It was an example I desperately needed and craved as a kid. And I was just as inspired by the new She-Ra!

I haven’t based a character on her per say, but she inspires that dichotomy, that contrast in characters. No one is all good or all bad. Even warriors can have a soft touch. And everyone deserves a winged unicorn (though I’ve yet to write one in a story).

 

Derek: As we finish up our interview, is there anything you want to add or tell readers about yourself? Are there any current projects you are working on that you can tell us about?

 

Marie: The third book in The Guild of Shadows series, Hell Bound, is currently available for preorder, and it’s going to be another crazy fun adventure. With lots of death, but lots of giggles, too! I’ve also got another project I love, Wishstamp, which I invite you all to check out (www.wishstamp.com).

 

Marie Bilodeau is an Ottawa-based author and storyteller, with eight published books to her name. Her speculative fiction has won several awards and has been translated into French (Les Éditions Alire) and Chinese (SF World). Her short stories have also appeared in various anthologies. In a past life not-so-long ago, she was Deputy Publisher for The Ed Greenwood Group (TEGG). Marie is also a storyteller and has told stories across Canada in theatres, tea shops, at festivals and under disco balls. She’s won story slams with personal stories, has participated in epic tellings at the National Arts Centre, and has adapted classical material.

 

Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD (They/Them) is a Disabled, Queer, Nonbinary activist, author, artist, academic, and editor. They edited the anthologies Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins (Exile) and We Shall Be Monsters (Renaissance Press) and are the 8 time Prix Aurora Award-winning creator of the digital humanities hub Speculating Canada. Derek has published in fora such as Uncanny Magazine, The Playground of Lost Toys, Quill & Quire, Fireside Magazine, Diamond Book Shelf, The Town Crier, Exile Quarterly, and Nothing Without Us. Derek’s art work has been published in fora such as Feminist Space Camp, Lackington’s, Postscripts to Darkness, and Aging Activisms.

Derek Newman-Stille Interviews Mark Leslie (Lefebvre)

SF Canada is pleased to share a new interview from Derek Newman-Stille. They spoke with fellow SF Canada member Mark Leslie (Lefebvre) on subjects ranging from researching werewolf books to spending the night in a haunted hotel room.

Interview with Mark Leslie (Lefebvre) on Writing Werewolves and Haunted Houses

By Derek Newman-Stille

 

Derek Newman-Stille: “To begin our interview, could you tell readers a little bit about yourself?”

 

Mark Leslie (Lefebvre): “I’m a writer, editor, bookseller, storyteller with about twenty-five or so books out there in the world. I tend to drift toward the darker realms of speculative fiction in my writing; and most of my non-fiction books are explorations of haunted locations. I have also written a few books about the business of writing and publishing under my full name, tacking “Lefebvre” back on.

I started writing when I was about fourteen years old, received my first rejection at the age of fifteen, and have, of course, collected thousands of rejections since then. My first short story was published in 1992, the same year I started working in bookselling. I’ve grown up within the industry learning about both the author side and the book industry side of things, which I believe has afforded me a unique perspective over the years.

Because I wear many different hats in the roles I’ve played over the years, I often find that the term “Book Nerd” fits quite nicely.”

 

Derek: “I like that term “Book Nerd”. That is fantastic. You have published in a lot of genres and even extended from Speculative Fiction writing into non-fiction explorations of haunted narratives. Do you find that your explorations of stories about hauntings influences your Speculative Fiction?”

 

Mark: “Oh yeah, for sure. It’s difficult to turn off the speculative fiction writer mind when I’m doing research for haunted locations. Several of my fictional pieces have been inspired by some of the ghost walks, tours, and reading I’ve done to learn about haunted locations.

That’s the beauty of writing both fiction and non-fiction. I can be doing research on a location that I’m writing about for one of my “true ghost story” books, and something within the stories I’m learning about trigger a thought or an additional “what if?” that inspires me to imagine something. Riffing on true tales is a great source for my writing. Of course, almost everything I experience is prime to be plucked for my writing at one time or another.”

 

Derek: “I like that inspiration of the “what if”. Do you find that your work is often inspired by the “what if” question and what are some situations where you have asked yourself “what if” and it has planted the seeds of a new story?”

 

Mark: “If I stop to think about it, “What if?” is likely the most common underlying fundamental of most of what flows from my pen. And not just for the fantastical tales where I inject speculation and wonder; but even for my non-fiction.

It’s easy to see where I took research or something I saw or heard and then went off in a specific “what if” direction.

For example, my Canadian Werewolf stories and novels came from wondering what it might be like to be living in a large metropolis while suffering from lycanthropy. How would a werewolf have to organize his time? What are the logistics involved when one wakes up from a night of howling at the moon and needs to find clothes to get back home? Those questions birthed the novel A Canadian Werewolf in New York.

Some of my ghost stories were also based on wondering odd things, such as: if objects can be haunted, what might happen if a collector of haunted objects thrust a bunch of haunted items into a personal at home museum. Would these ghosts, now forced to share the same space, act like children forced to share a bedroom?

I think many of my speculative musings often involve dark humour.

One of my most popular stories to read in front of an audience, “That Old Silk Hat They Found” was born from wondering what might ACTUALLY happen if a snowman came alive.

An example from non-fiction might be when I’m researching to write about haunted locations, I approach the research with an open-minded skepticism. I’m a believer, but I also look for plausible explanations for different alleged hauntings. But there’s always a part of me that clings to the “what if this there actually is a ghost? And what if the ghost is this historic figure? And what if….” etc etc.”

 

Derek: “I can imagine looking out on the world of 2020 and now 2021 there must be a lot of “what if” material to inspire you. How has this past year inspired your writing? What narratives do you see potentially arising from the events of this year?”

 

Mark: “Interesting question.

I haven’t done a lot of fiction writing about the events of the past year or so, but I imagine that there will be things that will subconsciously inject themselves into my writing. For stories I’ve written in that time period, I’ve purposely avoided pandemic or anything associated with it.

I have incorporated some of the modern political landscape into a novel in progress that’s coming out in February 2021. FEAR AND LONGING IN LOS ANGELES, the latest in my “Canadian Werewolf” series, involves the rise of a terrorist neo-nazi group. Interestingly, that premise was scripted back in 2016. The manuscript was put aside until late in 2020 when I started working on it again, and surprised myself that those elements were in there.

One of the things that the global pandemic, lockdown, and all the accompany elements have done for me, is inspired me to re-engage with other forms of entertainment, and storytelling; especially parody.

I’ve long enjoyed writing parody lyrics to pop songs, and often used that as a writing warm-up activity. But the pandemic and lockdown inspired me and my partner to collaborate on a few pandemic parody videos, where we recorded the song and created a video.

Two of those were “Stuck in This House Here With You” (a parody of “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel. And then we followed that up with a K-Tel commercial parody, which was a collection of short pandemic-themed parody song clips, including “Sharing Broadband Streams” which was a parody of the Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton song “Islands in the Stream.”

If I were to look for positives in the current global situation, I think it would be that it was a reminder to me that I am a born storyteller, regardless of the media it comes out in.”

 

Derek: “You have mentioned your Canadian Werewolf stories and I am really looking forward to reading them. I used to teach a werewolf course at Trent University, so the werewolf is something that I am incredibly fascinated by. What inspired your interest in the figure of the werewolf?”

 

Mark: “It’s funny because for the longest time I tried to avoid writing using the “classic” monsters of horror like vampires and werewolves, because so much had already been done with them.

But it was reading the guidelines for an open anthology call that inspired my “Canadian Werewolf.” The editor had been looking for stories about the human side of a “monster” and that’s what sparked me to think about what it might be like for the human living in a big city and trying to engage in a normal life despite this hiccough.

With his affliction, he has no memory or conscious control of the wolf. So when he wakes up, he has no idea where he is or what he was up to. That premise was intriguing me, as my main character writes in his first tale, upon waking up naked in Battery Park with a bullet hole in his leg, the taste of human blood in his mouth and no memory of the night before and says: “What the hell had I been up to this time?”

I ended up giving my human wolf-inspired enhanced senses; modelling them off of Wolverine and Daredevil from the Marvel comic books. Of course, my character, Michael Andrews, was, himself (like me) a huge fan of Spider-Man, and therefore adopts a “great power/great responsibility” moral compass that guides him along. He can’t help but use his powers to stop and help others, even when he’s in the middle of some personal desire or goal.

I also had a lot of fun playing with the concept of alpha dog, or alpha wolf. Because, while, as a wolf, he might be the alpha, he is definitely a beta human, or a bit of a pushover. I played up the polite, Canadian stereotype in his character, as well as my own naive nature of having grown up in a really small town in Northern Ontario.”

 

Derek: “The werewolf is such a fascinating figure because it occupies that space of being both human… and not human at the same time. It opens up so many possibilities for being an outsider who is also an insider. I find it interesting that you set your story in the United States. Was this at all inspired by the insider/outsider quality?”

 

Mark: “Oh, that’s a great question.

Funny, I set it in the US because when I wrote the first short story that eventually turned into the novel, I had visited New York City for the first time. I was fascinated with how such a larger city as New York could be so urban, and yet have unique natural landscapes in so many neighbourhoods.

I was also fascinated at how the neighbourhoods themselves were so interesting and dynamic, and could each have their own distinct feel of “home” and comfort despite being part of this bustling city that never sleeps.

I only played up the insider/outside qualities as an after-thought, rather than as a fore-thought. I didn’t realize Michael was a beta human until an early reader of the manuscript complained that an “alpha wolf” would never drop onto his knees and sob in front of the woman he loved and lost. When I reflected on that, I knew that would be part of what made him unique, and allowed me to use that alpha/beta contrast. Perhaps this is a similar contrast to Michael being a small town country bumpkin making his way in the Big Apple.

And now that you mention it, I’m starting to reflect on the first person narrative where Michael (who happens to be a writer), is very reflective on making note of observing specific things about his situation and the people around him.

For example, he recognizes that wolves do not kill for sport, like humans; they only kill for food, or over protecting their pack or territory. Humans are a far more frightening creature, when you think about it.”

 

Derek: “Speaking of the supernatural, I have to ask about some of your nonfiction work on hauntings. What inspired you to start researching and publishing about hauntings?”

 

Mark: “I blame historic ghost walks. I fell in love with history through ghost walks in Ottawa and Hamilton, ON. And, prior to that, I enjoyed history about as much as I enjoyed walking golf. I mean I put it right up there with watching paint dry.

But going on a tour and learning about local and Canadian history from a guide who was dressed in Victorian garb and carrying a lantern brought such a uniqueness and immediacy to the experience that I realized that we walk upon lands that are rich with history, rich with the tales of those who came before us.

It was shortly after moving to Hamilton and going on several of the local ghosts walks that I was inspired to want to capture some of these tales and share them. I learned that Dundurn, Canada’s largest independent publisher, had always wanted to publish a book of ghost stories about Hamilton. I did some research, leaned there had never been such a thing — ie, there was a hole in the market — spoke with the folks offering the tours about the idea of a book, and they gave me full access to their research and archives, and the rest was history.

I pitched the book, Dundurn sent me a contract, and I set about writing it.

I’ve since written other books based on looking at potential holes in the market combined with locals and subjects I’m interested in. So I’ve covered cities I’ve lived in (Hamilton, Sudbury, Ottawa), cities I love (Montreal), as well as other locations (haunted bookstores and libraries, haunted hospitals).”

 

Derek: Do you visit the spaces where people report ghost stories and, if so, what is that experience like?

 

Mark: “Yes, I do, whenever possible, visit the spaces. Ideally when I’m researching and writing them. Sometimes, though, it’s after I’ve already written about them.

I’m actually a big chicken, so I’m often quite nervous visiting such locations.

Though I’ve never had anything paranormal or something I can’t explain happen to be when doing that research, I’m still quite the chicken.

I typically marvel at the history of a specific locale, even if it’s not at the ghosts or hauntings the place is known for.

But I do often approach such visits with a sense of quiet respect and honour. Often times the location is the site of some horrific tragedy or murder, and I sometimes feel as if I’m visiting a grave.

So there can be a great deal of high emotions that come with visiting particular locations. Fear, excitement, quiet reflection, sadness.”

 

Derek: “I recently got a copy of Haunted Hospitals that you published with Rhonda Parrish and I was wondering what got you fascinated with hospitals as particular spaces of haunting. They strike me as places that are already uncomfortable for people. Do you think that this discomfort and the uncertainty around life and death may inspire people to create ghost stories about them? Or is the fraught nature of these spaces a possible reason why ghosts linger?”

 

Mark: “Great question.

Hospitals, are, in an of themselves, a place where people come and go out of the world, where all kinds of the heights and depths of human experience happen. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts or spirits or supernatural elements, you can’t help by marvel at the power that a location like a hospital holds.

There were plenty of doctors and nurses who had been willing to share tales about inexplicable experiences they had at the hospital where they worked, but when it came time to me asking permission to use these stories (even if I were to make them anonymous), they declined. While slightly disappointed, I also completely understood their decisions, and saw it as a sign of respect they held for their colleagues, patients, and perhaps also the previous tenants of the buildings where they work.

I also found it fascinating that, when you go back in history, there was this odd blurry line between hospital, and asylum, and prison. In some cases, like in terms of Canada’s oldest jail, you had pickpockets and murderers sharing the same space with folks who needed to be hospitalized for a mental disorder. In much of the research I did, there plenty of elements of a “hell on earth” environment for many of the downtrodden and less fortune of society.

But considering the depths of horror, the extremes of emotions, wouldn’t hospitals be a spot that is rife for either hauntings or at the very least some sort of echo of the intense energy and emotions experienced there?”

 

Derek: “You know I have to ask – have you seen any ghosts or do you have any personal haunting stories that you are comfortable sharing here?”

 

Mark: “It’s funny that you ask that. For years, whenever I was asked this question I would be able to laugh and say. “Nope. Good news is that I’ve never seen a ghost or experienced anything paranormal. But I still believe in ghosts. I mean, I don’t have to have seen an atom myself to believe in them.”

But I can’t say that any more.

A few years ago, my partner Liz and I were traveling back home from a work related trip to Orlando where I had to speak at a writer’s conference. We decided to take some extra time and drive, exploring different hiking spots and breweries along the way. (We are also still researching to write a book about haunted bars and breweries, so that was part of the trip).

But on our way back, we planned a stop in Weston, West Virginia at the Trans Alleghany Lunatic Asulym. That appears in the book Haunted Hospitals, and this was about a month after the book was released. This was a case where I visited the spot AFTER having written about it. In fact, this was a chapter that Rhonda wrote, so I wasn’t as intimately familiar with it as she was.

But the night before, we arrived in town on a foggy night around midnight, and had been driving all day, having left Orlando in the morning. The first hotel we stopped in at was full. No rooms left. So we went down the highway to the next one. Liz was driving, so I ran in.

They had a single room. “But,” the clerk said. “It’s two double beds. No Queen. No King.”

“That’s fine,” I said. We just needed a place to drop into sleep, get up in the morning and go on the tour of the local historic haunted building, and then head back home.

We went to bed immediately. Liz took the bed closest to the washroom, and I took the one nearest the door. She had a hoodie on, threw it over her head and fell fast asleep.

It always takes me longer to fall asleep, and, because I’m a big chicken, if often takes a bit longer in a strange hotel room, despite being tired.

But I finally fell asleep.

I woke, some time later, to the sound of Liz getting out of bed and shuffling to the bathroom. I cracked an eye open to see her moving past the end of her bed toward the washroom, listening to the shuffling of her feet on the carpet.

I laid there waiting for her to turn on the bathroom light. But it never went on.

Then I heard something in the bed beside me. The sound of her breathing in her sleep.

“What the hell?” I whispered, sitting up. There was a woman in our room!

I looked at the door, saw that the security bolt was still latched.

How was that? How did she get in?

I looked over at Liz, she was sleeping in the bed beside mine.

I figured I must have likely fallen asleep after seeing her move to the bathroom, then woke up a few minutes later, thinking only seconds had passed; and that explained what I thought I’d seen.

I eventually convinced myself my imagination was running overtime and fell back asleep.

Only to be woken again to the sound of something clacking on the table at the end of my bed where my laptop bag and our passports were.

I sat up again. There was something in our room! A thief, maybe, trying to steal our passports, my laptop!

Again, there was nobody there. Liz was still fast asleep.

It took me longer to fall asleep the second time. But I did.

In the morning, I asked Liz if she’d gotten up at all during the night. She said, NO, she had slept through pretty much the whole night. I then said: “Wow, because here’s what I thought I saw and heard last night.”

I relayed the story to her, and her face went extremely pale.

Liz is not a believer in ghosts. She’s fascinated by the tales, but unlike me, she doesn’t believe.

The look on her face told me she was having second thoughts.

“What? What is it?” I asked.

“Well,” she said. “I wasn’t going to say anything because I thought maybe it was a dream, but here’s what happened to me last night.”

She relayed that she had been asleep, facing the wall, when she felt a presence standing over her. She knew it wasn’t me, the way a person just knows. And then she felt a hand press onto her shoulder; it felt like a woman’s hand. Because she is a feisty person, the alpha in our relationship, she steeled herself up to spin around and punch the stranger standing over her in our hotel room.

But when she spun, there was nobody there.

In a nutshell, we both felt the presence of a woman in the room with us in different ways.

It was a bit eerie. But not scary. She was just a presence. So we made sure to wish her well and say good bye to her when we left.

Then we went to one of the most notoriously haunted asylum in that part of the country, and didn’t see a single ghost or unexplained activity.

But I suppose I can no longer say that I’ve never seen a ghost; or, at least, some sort of thing that I can’t properly explain.”

 

Derek: “What is it like to interview people about their experiences of hauntings?”

 

Mark: “Interviewing people about ghosts and hauntings is quite interesting.

In some cases, they are excited to share some unique and thrilling experience. In other cases, they are sharing something profoundly emotional and disturbing.

I find that it’s important for me to tread cautiously and respectfully as much as possible.

They might also be dealing with worries over being made fun or or not believed, so there’s that element too.

Also, I always ensure that those who share their stories have the option of me changing their name and identity.

I also realized that I can’t always just take the story that people share with me. Even true stories need to have some sort of story arc. So I’ll often write down their story and then, when I write the tale out, I’ll elaborate and flesh out the story with additional details that make sense based on my research and the setting, even if it wasn’t part of their original tale.

And then I usually share that chapter with them after the fact to ensure I’ve capture the details accurately, and respectfully.

In some cases, I’ve had stories I’ve written where I really had to elaborate and injected my version of what I thought the dialogue might have been (where the person sharing the story didn’t give “line by line” dialogue explanations) – I merely fleshed out the story with what I felt would be realistic elements.

Most of the time, they’ll come back with a “wow, it was like you were right there!” response, suggesting I managed to flesh out just enough detail to be close or accurate or authentic about the experience.

Because it’s that type of authenticity that I believe resonates with the reader.”

 

Derek: “Having done a few ghost tours of cities and being someone who is passionate about history, I have always found it fascinating the way that ghost stories are often ways of beginning narratives talking about the history of a particular location. Do you find that the narratives you record inspire you and your readers to learn more about local history?”

 

Mark: “Oh yes. One hundred percent.

While I started off not being interested in history at all, it was through my exploration of ghost stories that I learned to love history. In fact, when I visit new locations, I look for historic tours so I can learn more about the locale, the people, the buildings, the architecture, the culture, all of it, even if there aren’t any ghost stories to share.

I’ve heard from readers who said that one of the elements in my ghost stories have intrigued them enough to continue to do research on a thing I perhaps only touched upon, because in a ghost story book, you have to stick to the chills and thrills.

When I was writing Tomes of Terror: Haunted Bookstores and Libraries, the book nerd in me often took over (I think he and I share this same body in a lycanthropic manner) and went whole hog writing about the history of various bookstores and library locations. My editor and I actually fought over how MUCH detail I wanted to inject. She reminded me that people were there with a willing suspension of disbelief to read about ghosts, and I was harping on about bookish history. We finally compromised, and I cut a significant amount of that out of the chapters, but managed to get some of it back into the book in these little side-bar segments that appear in some chapters. That way, the true believer ghost lovers would still enjoy the chapter, and the bookish folks like me could dig into and enjoy the in depth book history insights.”

 

Derek: “Thank you for a brilliant interview and for sharing so much with us. As we finish the interview, is there anything you want to mention here or any current projects you want to let us know about?”

 

Mark: “Thank, you, Derek, for a fun chat.

I appreciate the conversation, and the only other thing I’d add is that if people wanted to find out more about me, or check out the various things I’m up to www.markleslie.ca has info, links to my books, and all my exploits on social media.  Thank you!”

 

 

Mark Leslie (Lefebvre) has been writing since he was thirteen years old and discovered his mother’s Underwood typewriter collecting dust in a closet. Under the name Mark Leslie, he has published more than a dozen full length books. He pens a series of non-fiction paranormal explorations for Dundurn, Canada’s largest independent publisher. He also writes fiction (typically thrillers and horror) and edits fiction anthologies, most recently as a regular editor for the WMG Publishing Fiction River anthology series.

Between 2011 and 2017, Mark worked at the Director of Self-Publishing and Author Relations for Kobo where he was the driving force behind the creation of Kobo Writing Life, a free and easy to use author/small-publisher friendly platform designed to publish directly to Kobo’s global catalog in 190 countries. Mark has spoken professionally in the United States and Canada, in the UK and across Europe, specializing in advances in digital publishing and the vast and incredible opportunities that exist for writers and publishers.

 

Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD (They/Them) is a Disabled, Queer, Nonbinary activist, author, artist, academic, and editor. They edited the anthologies Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins (Exile) and We Shall Be Monsters (Renaissance Press) and are the 8 time Prix Aurora Award-winning creator of the digital humanities hub Speculating Canada. Derek has published in fora such as Uncanny Magazine, The Playground of Lost Toys, Quill & Quire, Fireside Magazine, Diamond Book Shelf, The Town Crier, Exile Quarterly, and Nothing Without Us. Derek’s art work has been published in fora such as Feminist Space Camp, Lackington’s, Postscripts to Darkness, and Aging Activisms.

Derek Newman-Stille Interviews Cait Gordon

Today we have another inspiring interview from Derek Newman-Stille. They spoke with fellow SF Canada member Cait Gordon to talk about disability activism, what it means to be a Spoonie, and the healing power of humour.

Keep reading to hear about Cait’s community-building journey and the path to publishing powerful stories with disabled protagonists.

 

Interview with Cait Gordon About Advocating for Disabled Writers

By Derek Newman-Stille

 

Derek: It’s great to talk to you again Cait! To start out our interview, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Cait: Thanks for having me! I often start by saying I’m a disabled autistic humorist whose favourite writing vehicle is space opera. I’m also a feisty disability advocate who loves cake,and boosting the written word of Spoonie writers.

Derek: As a fellow disabled person, I know how much advocacy you do and how essential it is that we have disabled advocacy. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in disabled activism?

Cait: Certainly!

When I wrote my first book, Life in the ’Cosm, I was #DisabledAndAlone. I didn’t have a community of fellow disabled folks, and was scared. Primarily because I was submerged in ableist narratives that taught me disability was bad and I was terrified of ending up in a wheelchair because my mobility was so impaired.

So, I decided to start a “writing exercise” just for myself. I was totally flying by the seat of my pants, and along in chapter three comes this character named Noola. She was an explosion of colour who uses skates as mobility devices. At the time, I couldn’t walk or stand much at all, but Noola became my community. She taught me to be myself and thrive. Then I met other disabled people in Canadian Spec Fiction, and whoa…I wanted to commune with them. I created the Spoonie Authors Network a month after ’Cosm was published. This led to me wanting to dedicate a lot of my energy to boosting other Spoonie creatives.

Derek: Can you tell us a little bit about the term Spoonie and why it felt like the perfect term for you and your identity?

Cait: Sure! Christine Miserandino was trying to explain to her abled friends what it feels like to expend energy as a person who manages chronic fatigue. She used spoons as tasks in a day. So, getting up used one spoon. Getting dressed, a spoon. Washing your hair, another spoon. Many abled people don’t realize how draining routine tasks are to folks like me. So, this way of explaining is called Spoon Theory, and those who manage disabilities and/or chronic conditions use the nickname Spoonie. It’s also common for use to say “I’m out of spoons today.” It means we just have no more energy to give. As an autistic person, I might also say, “I’ve no brain spoons,” meaning, I need to rest because I cannot process anything else for the day.

I just love the term for myself and there are still a lot of people who use it as well!

Derek: You do a lot of amazing Spoonie/Disabled advocacy along with other disabled writers at the Spoonie Authors Network. Can you tell us a bit about how that network began and what you are up to currently with it?

Cait: I went to my first writers conference in Sep 2016, Can*Con, with my BFF Talia C. Johnson. Life in the ’Cosm made its debut at the Renaissance vendor table. I’m still so embarrassed I tried to sell you a copy like I was a used-car salesman from a 70s TV series or something. But hey, we’re here! Anyway, at that time I used a cane to walk. And I noticed canes, wheelchairs, mobility scooters and thought, “Whoa, these are one the disabilities I can perceive. There must be a lot of writers with ‘invisible’ disabilities, too!” And as a newly-published, disabled author, I wanted to build a community. So, in Nov 16, I built the website for the Spoonie Authors Network, thinking myself and maybe one other friend would be contributors. I think we now have over 20. Authors just writing about their experiences as creatives while managing spoons. This year, I have Canadian fantasy author Dianna Gunn running the Spoonie Authors Podcast, so that’s also been exciting. But in 2017, I had a longing to amass stories into an anthology, written solely by disabled authors. I blurted out the idea to Nathan Frechette from Renaissance one day at an event, just thinking out loud, and he said, “Renaissance will publish it!” Um, what? I never did this before and WHAT ARE YOU DOING, NATE?! But he’s an amazing person, and he saw something in me I couldn’t in myself. It was his suggestion to co-edit with Talia, and now you know I’m speaking about Nothing Without Us, a 2020 Prix Aurora Award finalist for Best Related Work. The idea came to me after I went into disabled culture. It’s been a real blessing.

My field of advocacy is about books and stories. I just want to have more own-voices representation out there. We are the heroes, not the sidekicks!

Derek: This is a big question, but when did you first encounter a story that featured a character you can identify with, particularly a disabled character?

Cait: Life in the ’Cosm? I’m not being cheeky, either. My first novel isn’t perfect, but Noola had a neuropathy that varied in severity from day to day. One abled beta reader couldn’t understand how Noola could do one thing one day and be too sore the next. But that was my life back then. The first disabled protagonist I ever read was in Madona Skaff’s Journey of a Thousand Steps” I love that book so much and it was the only one I’d known at the time that starred a disabled character. One of the reasons I wanted to do Nothing Without Us was so I could know more authors and more stories. At panels, I’d say I only knew one book, and that was just wrong.

Derek: That says a lot about the under-representation of disability, doesn’t it? What could you say about the need for more disability representation… and perhaps more importantly GOOD disability representation that isn’t just tropes?

Cait: I mentioned in a group chat once that I really wanted more disabled characters in stories and someone mentioned a list of tropey, problematic characters from the superhero world. I know they weren’t being mean-spirited either. Many abled people don’t understand how badly we’re written. Dianna Gunn asked everyone she interviewed on Season 1 of the Spoonie Authors Podcast about what’s we’d like to see with regards to representation and so many Spoonies said we need MORE characters written by us. And they should be performed by us as well. As an autistic person, I’m weary about this one type of representation: usually a man, usually a savant, and this notion that he cannot experience empathy. *shudder* Heck, I’m so empathetic, I fret over my little tree and sing the Spiderman song to my spider plants to make them grow. There’s not only one way to be disabled or autistic or Deaf or experience mental illness. I sometimes wonder if we don’t see ourselves in books and media because producers and publishers don’t believe our experiences. So, our own-voices are never shared. Again, this was why Nothing Without Us was so important to Talia and me. We only accepted stories where the disabled person was the main character.

We wanted the authors to be disabled, Deaf, neurodiverse, Spoonie, and those who managed mental illness.

Derek: Nothing Without Us is such a powerful collection of stories. What is some of the feedback you’ve received from the disabled community?

Cait: The first feedback we got before the anthology was published was, “When are you doing the next one?” And Talia and I were so out of spoons, we were like, “Can we have a sleep for a few months, please?” But there was so much excitement for this anthology and the feedback from the community has been wonderful. I think the fact that the protagonists identified as disabled, Deaf, neurodiverse, mentally ill really impacted readers in a positive way. The stories took turns that I know many abled people might not have expected but the disabled folks were like, “YES! WHOOT!” One thing I really want to underscore because I don’t think it’s well known is how funny the disabled/Deaf/neurodiverse culture is. And there’s snark woven into several stories of Nothing Without Us. I loved that because it’s so reflective of the community. When I entered Disabled culture, the first thing I found was I was laughing with abandon. Such clever humour, and often dealing with ableism. Jennifer Lee Rossman has a tweet that went viral. Someone was saying disabled parking should only be for a few hours because why should disabled people need to go out after a certain hour. And Jennifer replied, “We’re disabled, we’re not werewolves.” I laughed so hard at that. So, I guess I also want abled folks to know that we’re funny. It’s okay to laugh with us.

Derek: Do you feel like there is a disabled style of writing and what are some of the things that you see in writing from our disabled community?

Cait: I personally have witnessed a richness in storytelling. Really creative work that even allows for world-building in the limited word count of a short story. And my favourite thing is that the characters just “are.”  And whether the stories are paranormal romance, fantasy, science fiction, and reality fiction, there’s a painting and sculpting of the world their in. Talia and I were drawn right into the 22 stories we chose. The authors were unapologetic in their storytelling as well. No meandering around the disability or mental illness or whatnot. Also, Raymond Luczak even called out gatekeeping in the Deaf community in Mafia Butterfly. That happens, too. So, I loved the honesty of the writers in crafting their stories. And I must say, I loved your snarkier-than-snarky main character in Charity™. Golden way to end the anthology, too.

Derek: You brought up humour and I know that you often identify as a humourist writer too. Can you tell us a little bit about humour and the need for a good laugh while we read cool Speculative Fiction?

Cait: I just can’t imagine life without humour in it. I was going to say we’d be robots, but I also make my bots funny as well. Humour is life for me. It takes us to a place that we often need to go because life can be trying at times. In 2018, I was having some of the worst panic attacks and palpitations of my existence. Scary stuff, Holtor monitors worn, cardiologist seen. Yet, I was also writing The Stealth Lovers then, and these are fan favourites Commanders Xaxall “Xax” Knightly and Vivoxx “Viv” Tirowen. Well, writing Xax is like taking off my filters and putting my foot on the gas. I think he’s a little blurty from being neurodiverse—no idea where I came up with that, cough—and he’s got extra helpings of sass. So, I found myself settling down from a massive anxiety spell by writing the book. Then I was amazed how funny the pages turned out. I didn’t even know how I did that when just before my heart had been racing from panic. But for me, reaching beyond the pain of mental illness and PTSD and into that fun, absurdist place was my personal tonic. If you read The Stealth Lovers, you’d have no idea the author was nearly tormented with anxiety. That’s the magic of finding your sense of humour even in the worst circumstances.

And I think we all could use a good laugh. Let’s face it.

So, why not in spec fiction, too?

I was just discussing this topic on a humour panel at When Words Collide, moderated by Ira Nayman. We authors collectively agreed that humour adds to the worldbuilding.

Derek: Absolutely, it does! Speaking of worldbuilding, can you talk a little about the appeal of Space Opera. What appealed to you about it and what got you writing it?

Cait: As a little kid, I adored Star Trek and Star Wars. I’ve always been fascinated with space travel, and love the notion of people being relatable, even galaxies away. Space opera just feels natural to me. I want all the colours of the rainbow in my characters. I don’t often write human-type characters but aliens with scales, snouts, several arms, and so on. In my latest WIP, Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space, I have more human-like types. But yeah, I just love the fantastical merged with the scientific, and strong character-driven stories. That really appeals to me whether I’m writing or reading it. Also, I think humour and space opera go really well together. But I must say even though I’m a humorist, I’m not one-dimensional. My stories and books often tackle serious themes as well. I sometimes feel I tell a story like an Irish person, I’ll make you cry, then laugh in the next paragraph.

Derek:What are some of the current… and perhaps even NEXT projects you are working on?

Cait: I’ve just sent a disabled sea-folk fantasy short story to a sensitivity editor. I’m hoping to submit that. And I have a sequel to Life in the ’Cosm in the works as well. But I’m really enjoying writing Iris and the Crew Tear Through Space. It’s a space opera adventures series with a disabled crew who live in such an accommodating world, they don’t even understand the word disabled as applied to people. I’m having so much fun and have fallen in love with these characters. My progress is slowed while I’m recovering from a shoulder injury, but the ideas are booming!

Derek: there anything further that you would like to chat about or anything I have missed that you want our readers to know about?

Cait: One thing I’d like to say is that I cringe whenever anyone says “differently abled.” Can we put that expression in the blender? Now, I understand that sometimes abled folks are taught this is correct, but in fact, it can negate our identities. So, it’s fine to say disabled, and if the person identifies using another term, just thank them, use their term, and carry on.

Derek: Yes please!! I can’t stand that term either. It doesn’t come from our community – it comes from abled folks.

Cait: Oh, and Barbies and cosplay are cool. Cosplaying Barbies, even cooler.

Derek: That’s right! I meant to ask you about Barbies and cosplay, especially since I saw your amazing Cosplay Barbies! Can you tell us a little bit about your collection of Barbies to start off?

Cait:I can’t remember if it was my 47th birthday. But I saw a Uhura Barbie. I thought she looked so great, so I bought her. And I had no idea that was the gateway to collecting for me. I often find myself housebound because of my mobility and the suburban location where I live. So collecting Barbies is like seeing people all around me, living their best life. I even have Barbies with physical disabilities. And on one of my Barbies, I put the neurodiversity pride symbol.

Then I started getting into collecting women who were superheroes. That was fun. But I had read the rat queen’s comic and fell in love with Hannah. But where was I going to buy a Hannah Barbie? So, I had a notion to buy a Barbie and cosplay her as Hannah the sweary elf wizard. That was such a blast that I decided to do one for Harley Quinn. I like to cosplay as well, but cosplaying my Barbies was a whole new level of fun.

Derek: Thank you for an absolutely amazing and brilliant interview! I really appreciate your time and work.I am really honoured that we were able to chat today and thank you for all of your insights.

 

Cait Gordon is a humorist and disability advocate who writes speculative fiction that celebrates the reality of diversity. She is the author of Life in the ’Cosm and The Stealth Lovers. Her short stories have appeared in Alice Unbound Beyond Wonderland  (Ed. Colleen Anderson, Exile Editions), We Shall Be Monsters (Ed. Derek Newman-Stille, Renaissance), and Space Opera Libretti (Eds. McNett and Rossman). Cait also founded The Spoonie Authors Network and joined Talia C. Johnson to co-edit Nothing Without Us, a collection of 22 stories whose authors and protagonists identify as disabled, Deaf, neurodiverse, and/or they manage mental illness. You can connect with Cait at spoonieauthorsnetwork.blog, caitgordon.com, or on Twitter (@CaitGAuthor).

Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD (They/Them) is a Disabled, Queer, Nonbinary activist, author, artist, academic, and editor. They edited the anthologies Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins (Exile) and We Shall Be Monsters (Renaissance Press) and are the 8 time Prix Aurora Award-winning creator of the digital humanities hub Speculating Canada. Derek has published in fora such as Uncanny Magazine, The Playground of Lost Toys, Quill & Quire, Fireside Magazine, Diamond Book Shelf, The Town Crier, Exile Quarterly, and Nothing Without Us. Derek’s art work has been published in fora such as Feminist Space Camp, Lackington’s, Postscripts to Darkness, and Aging Activisms.