Tag Archives: claire humphrey

Shiny Shorts: Second Chances and New Perspectives

Here we are coming up on the end of May, which seems hard to believe. At least in this corner of the world, spring is upon us. Flowers are starting to bloom, leaves are getting greener, and everything is  bursting with color and life. At the same time, we’re not quite out of the dark and the world is still in a precarious state. It’s a good time for self-care, and stories and art are exactly that. In that spirit, I offer up five stories mixing melancholy with hope. They are bittersweet and occasionally frightening. They deal with liminal spaces, change, and coming to see things differently. They are about second chances and new perspectives, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Apparition 10 CoverThe Bear Wife by Leah Bobet in Apparition Literary Magazine is a take on the animal bride trope about seeing a person for who they are and not what anyone else expects them to be. Sanchez has been living with Betty Nosemaskwa since July, and now that winter is coming on, things are starting to change. She’s sluggish, slow, and sleeping most of the time. Dishes are piling up, the laundry is going undone, and the locals – something Sanchez is not – have repeatedly suggested the best thing for him to do is steal her bearskin, take control of her, and shape her into a proper bride.

He couldn’t have said when she faded. Between the rolling heat of August and the September leaves, before the snowstorm, she had already retreated to the house, and then two rooms. Before he could trace what had come over her, if it had entered by window or door, she took to her bed and stayed there, and he was here, coping with the remains.

It’s the way most animal bride tales go. A skin is stolen, and one party in the relationship is forced into a shape not their own, made to change to fit the other party’s worldview until something breaks and the whole thing falls apart. Sanchez, however, insists it’s not like that with him and Betty. He puts aside his fear – after all, a bear is a powerful creature that could destroy him – and he puts aside any thought that things could be easier if he followed the locals’ advice. Sure, he could have an “easier” woman, but then that woman wouldn’t be Betty anymore. So he meets her on her terms, instead of dictating his own, caring for Betty and trusting in her and their relationship even as she fully transforms in preparation for her long winter hibernation.

It’s a beautiful, touching, and quiet story, and can – at least to my mind – be read as a metaphor for someone coping with depression, or a neuro-atypical person who under other circumstances might be asked to be the one to bend and fit a neuro-typical world view. The story works perfectly on both levels, as the inversion, or refutation, of the typical animal bride story, and as a push-back against the world asking certain people, generally the most marginalized ones, to change, bend, and confrom, instead of shifting to accomodate them. Whichever way you choose to read the story, it’s a lovely one.

We Are the Flower by Claire Humphrey, a PodCastle original, is a bittersweet ghost story. MC comes across an exact replica of her bike down to the stickers and a tag with her initials on it. Every detail is so much the same that she knows it has to be her bike, despite the fact that she’s currently riding hers, and that the bike in front of her has been painted white and decorated with flowers – a sign that it has been turned into a memorial to commemorate a rider killed in traffic.

That’s what you do when someone dies in a bike accident. You paint their bike white and you set it up where they died. On rural roads people set up roadside crosses. In the city, you make a ghost bike.

That’s what you do when someone in the cycling community, a frequent rider, a bike lane advocate, dies. Someone like me. That’s what you do.

I said it like twelve different ways to myself, and it didn’t feel real.

Only it did feel real, because of some things like how I didn’t really know how I’d come to that corner that day, or where the other version of my bike had gone, or why the fuck I’d turned into a bird.

Once she’s accepted her death, MC is left to figure out why her spirit – occasionally in bird form – is still around. Is she meant to avenge herself, forgive the people in her life who did her wrong, or is there some other unfinished business she’s meant to attend? The anchor point in her post-life, the person she finds herself continually returning to, is her housemate Chris, who’d she’d only just realized she had romantic feelings for right before she died. In fact, she’d been planning to tell Chris as much on the day she died. “We Are the Flower” is both a love story and a ghost story, bitter for the fact that MC and Chris will never get the chance to see how their relationship might have grown, but sweet for the fact that MC is given a chance to see it blossom in a literal sense through one last moment of contact. Chris saw MC truly in life, respected her and understood her in a way no one else did. That ability to see her clearly, and the connection they formed, extends to the ability to see her clearly after death as well, if only for a moment, giving MC the chance to resolve her unfinished business and move on.

Driving with Ghosts by Clara Madrigano in The Dark shares an initial set up with “We Are the Flower” as the protagonist encounters a vehicle that shouldn’t be there, in this case, her grandfather’s Packard Hawk, the car he had when she was young, even though her grandfather is long dead. The car was both a source of joy and pain for Marina; she loved going for rides with her grandfather, but also suffered abuse at his hands while they were alone on the road together – a trauma she has locked away and never shared with anyone.

Many times, while at Penn and, later, in New York, I Googled a particular combination of words: ghosts, cars, loved ones. I never found what I was looking for, an experience exactly like mine, but I found a lot about women and cars. Women who accepted rides from strangers and were never seen again. Women who accepted rides from men they knew and were never seen again. Rides you could book in a serial killer’s car, the real deal; the people who ran the business would even lock you in the car’s trunk so you could live the full experience of the female victims.

Marina sees the car again as an adult as she’s fleeing an abusive relationship with her boyfriend, Mark. There’s a certain lure to the car, and Marina is tempted more than once to accept its invitation and climb into the passenger’s side – whether to confront her grandfather, or merely escape, she isn’t sure. The car becomes the link between Marina’s past and present in more ways than one as she comes to terms with two abusive men in her life and the way they both made her feel powerless. The car, both ghostly and real, reflects the complicated nature of Marina’s relationship with both her abusers, a combination of desire and pain, freedom and captivity, and the way they took her love and used it against her, making her doubt herself and taking away her sense of control. Marina ultimately finds a way through her trauma to reclaim her power, given a chance through this haunting to confont her past and seize the wheel to steer her own destiny.

Fiyah 14 CoverUniform by Errick Nunnally in Fiyah Magazine is an utterly heartbreaking story about a soldier who has essentially become a ghost haunting his own life. In order to help his family, Patrick joined the Marines at age 17, signing over his body to be transformed into a living weapon. Now that the war is over, Patrick is trapped. He can’t go back to the person he used to be, and doesn’t know where he fits in a world that no longer has a “use” for him.

On the street, pedestrians crossed out of his path at their earliest opportunity. A targeting matrix flashed over the scene in front of him, doing the only thing it was good for without a weapons system to command: snapping photos. Faces everywhere captured his attention. He wanted to forget his face, but the longing for that vestige of humanity haunted him with the pre-data memory of what he looked like, who he wanted to be.

Patrick withdraws from his family, and from almost every aspect of daily life, other than occasionally riding the subway in an attempt to connect with some shred of his former self. Everywhere he goes, however, he finds himself feared and reviled by the very people he fought to protect, who now see him as an abomination. Until a little girl grows curious about him and asks whether he’s a robot, giving him a second chance to reconnect with his humanity, moments before a tunnel collapse puts the entire subway in danger.

“Uniform” is simultaneously beautiful and brutal, and absolutely had me tearing up by the end. It’s a story that speaks to trauma, and the way soldiers are made into part of the machinery of war, literally in Patrick’s case. Sometimes, the most painful and terrible aspect of war comes after the fighting, when soliders are asked to return home to a “normal” life when they have had their humanity stripped away in order to become more perfect killers, and then are expected to re-integrate into a society that can see them as nothing but dealers of death and violence. Patrick is insulted, called names, assaulted, and suspected of causing the very accident he seeks to save his fellow passengers from when all he has ever tried to do is protect the people he loves, and it is absolutely wrenching to see him suffering, knowing his situation is all too real. However, there are moments of joy in the story as well as Patrick forms a connection with the little girl on the subway, providing a spark of brightness against the story’s powerful exploration of loss, grief, trauma, othering, duty, sacrifice, and what it means to be human.

Smilers by Chip Houser in Bourbon Penn is an eerie yet surprinsingly poignant zombie story. It’s told from the perspective of Aiden whose older brother Zach is doing his best to protect him from learning the truth about what’s happening to those around him.

Aiden rests his chin on the back of the living room couch, watching his older brother mow down zombies in ZomPlex. The zombies grab at Zach’s avatar, mouths moving like they’re chewing. Aiden’s not sure if they’re supposed to be hungry or angry or both. Their facial expressions don’t match any of the cards from the game he plays on Tuesdays with Ms. Hampton. Zombies don’t make a lot of sense to Aiden, but that’s okay, lots of things don’t make sense to him; he’s barely seven.

Outside of Zach’s game, the zombies in “Smilers” aren’t ravenous flesh-eating monsters. Whatever is affecting people started with the oldest among the population, and it’s steadily working its way down to the youngest, allowing Aiden to stay innocent and oblivious for as long as possible. Instead of turning them into ravening creatures, the transformation turns people into empty, mindless things, esmiling in a way that looks wrong and painful, caught in a loop of whatever they were doing when they changed – whether it’s texting a friend, like the cashier at the corner store, or perpetually reading the same page of a newspaper, like Aiden and Zach’s father.

Aiden reads as neuro-atypical, with his own way of processing emotions and the way people express them. He’s been told that smiling means happy, so if the people around him are smiling, everything must be okay, right? Aiden’s main priority is getting his brother to take him to the pool. He knows he’s not allowed to go alone, and besides sometimes there are bullies. Aiden finds it easier to deal with bullies and the world in general when he’s his true self – safely inside the wolf masks that lets him sneak and howl and be strong and unfraid. It’s a disguise that allows him to see himself more truly, even if others don’t fully understand him.

The relationship between Zach and Aiden is touching, and painful at the same time, as it’s clear to the reader and Zach what’s happening, even if Aiden doesn’t fully realize it. The image of the empty smilers is a truly unsettling one, and there’s a growing sense of dread as the world narrows and the plague closes in. At the same time, there’s a sense that some part of Aiden does know what’s going on, and yet rather than give in to fear, he embraces joy and innocence – his brother’s last gift to him. Rather than bend to the world, he shifts his perspective to see only the good things, like a pool all to himself  and no bullies to stop him jumping off the high dive board over and over again. Rather than letting the world change him, and conforming to its rules, Aiden remains fiercely and fully himself until the very end.

As always, I’d love to hear your own recommendations for short fiction you’ve loved, whether it be old or new. Take care of yourselves, stay healthy, and happy reading!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Recommended Reading

Summer Book Love 2016

Summer is upon us. With the exception of the occasional minor drop in temperature, the days are full of warm weather and sunshine, at least in these parts. Since it stays light so much longer, there are extra hours to sit outside and read. Whether you’re on a porch swing, sipping a cool drink while the bees bumble lazily by, or stretched out on a beach towel listening to the surf crash, summer is a glorious time to get lost in a book. Of course, to be fair, any season is a glorious time to get lost in a book. Anyway, regardless of season, here are a few recent books I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and perhaps you might enjoy them, too.

Kraken SeaSince 2004, E. Catherine Tobler has been spinning incredible tales of Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade. Now, with The Kraken Sea, published by Apex Books, readers can go back to the beginning and see where it all began. As an infant, Jackson was left in a daffodil box at the steps of an orphanage. As a young man, he boards a train, bound for Chicago and a new life, along with several other orphans. Jackson isn’t like the other children, however. There’s something inside him, something terrible and powerful and wonderful. He struggles to keep it hidden, but sometimes he can’t help himself. He unfolds, and scales and tentacles burst forth from human skin. As he struggles to control his nature, Jackson is thrust into his new life as an errand boy at Macquarie’s  working for Cressida, an imposing woman who runs a good portion of the town. There are shadows at Macquarie’s, things Jackson may or may not be meant to see, and questions he certainly shouldn’t ask. He’s mean to do his job, keep his head down, and stay out of the neighboring territory run by the Bell family. Of course, he does none of those things, particularly after he meets Mae, the youngest of the Bell children, a lion tamer in a burlesque show that is at once fantastic, terrifying, and brutal. Jackson finds himself drawn deeper into the intrigue between the rivals who run the city, and the darkness that runs under it. Like Jackson himself, there are things hidden beneath the city’s skin, waiting to burst free, and nothing is what it seems. The Kraken Sea is a gorgeous novel, alive with sensory detail, and imagery that will steal your breath away. There is darkness under every glittering surface, but a darkness that begs to be explored. While the Kraken Sea stands alone, it hints at a larger world, at Jackson’s future, and the many dimensions of his character and his story. It’s a novel about love and family, loss and pain, and finding a place in the world. And, of course, binding everything, Tobler offers up the first tantalizing glimpses of her circus, calling you to run away and partake of its wonders.

Spells of Blood and KinI first encountered Claire Humphrey’s Spells of Blood and Kin by hearing her read an excerpt at Readercon, and I was immediately hooked. Spells of Blood and Kin is a werewolf novel, except it isn’t at all, and it’s so much more. The word werewolf is never once mentioned, leaving room for everything else Humphrey weaves into the story. There’s Russian folklore, magic, and witches, but in its deepest heart of hearts, it’s a story about family – the one you find, the one you make, and the one you’re born into. As the story opens, Lissa is dealing with the sudden death of her grandmother. Lissa’s grandmother provided spells, cures, and healing for the local Russian community, and now Lissa must take on her role, while trying to maintain the semblance of a normal life and not let anyone know she’s a witch. This complicated by her stepsister, Julia, showing up out of the blue, determined to help Lissa because family – no matter how distant – needs to stick together. Even further complicating things, a man named Maksim comes to Lissa, claiming her grandmother knew him and owed him a debt. He says he is kin, but explains very little other than that he needs very powerful magic to control a dark and violent aspect of himself that her grandmother’s magic helped keep dormant. The their stories run in parallel  – Lissa working to find a magic strong enough to put the wolf in Maksim back to sleep, while Maksim works to track down, tame, and train Nick, a young man he bit and accidentally turned – and of course, they eventually collide. As the title implies, the themes of kinship and blood echo throughout the novel. In Maksim’s case, family is those with whom he shares the horror of an existence tied to violence and pain. Before accidentally turned Nick, he purposely turned Gus, a young woman who would have died without his his intervention. They are pack, a family, dealing with their violent nature by turning their brutality against each other, rather than hurting someone they could actually break. Rather than romanticizing the animal nature of the kin, in Maksim Humphrey gives us a character who is truly haunted by his past actions, physically pained by his drive to hurt others, and desperate to shed that part of himself. In fact, all the characters in Spells of Blood and Kin have aspects of themselves they would rather keep hidden, from what they see as necessity, but they must learn to trust each other – something which is not easy for any of them. Humphrey flips several tropes in her characterization, which is another of the novel’s strengths. Despite her role as a healer, Lissa is one of the most closed off characters. Instead of being nurturing and drawn to others, she does her best to isolate herself. Maksim, a former soldier and a boxer, wants nothing more than to shed the violence of his past, while Gus embraces the freedom that comes with being kin. She tempers it with alcohol and fighting, she knows her limits and how to exercise self-control, but she has no interest in denying or burying the animal part of her. Nick starts as seemingly harmless, a slacker, but once he’s bitten he embraces the wrong parts of being kin. He tries to control those around him using his new superior strength. His life before being bitten was stagnant; as change is forced upon him, and he uses that change to try to resist the larger forward progress of his life so he never has to grow up and start acting like a responsible adult. Overall, Spells of Blood and Kin is a fantastic novel. It’s also Humphrey’s debut, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Sword and StarSword and Star is the third and final book in Sunny Moraine’s Root Code trilogy. I’ve raved about the others – Line and Orbit, Fall and Rising, and the related-yet-stand-alone book, Labyrinthian – in various places before. Sword and Star is no exception. In addition to be a satisfying wrap-up to the series, the final book in the trilogy builds on the first two in a way that expands the universe in which they’re written. Everything feels bigger in Sword and Star – the stakes are higher, the world larger, and every decision carries more weight. Taken together, the three books can be compared to a single camera shot, continuously pulling back so more and more of the world fills the frame. Line and Orbit was a fairly personal story, focused primarily on Adam and Lochlan, their budding relationship, and the immediate danger to both their lives. Fall and Rising broadened the focus, showing the way Adam and Lochlan’s decisions in the first book impacted those around them, their friends and loved ones, as well as people they barely knew, but who they would come to call allies. Fall and Rising also deepened and matured Lochlan and Adam’s relationship, taking it from the heat of battle and passion to a more complicated and contemplative level as they learned to live with each other, and learned who each of them were alone and together, in battle and outside of it. Now, in Sword and Star, the camera is zoomed all the way out, showing the larger consequences of the actions begun in Line and Orbit as they ripple across the galaxy to touch alien planets, shake the foundation of the government back on earth, and threaten to tear the fleet apart. Lochlan and Adam’s relationship has expanded as well, encompassing the possibility of loss in a new way as they both change and grow, and deal with their own pain and challenges. The emphasis is less on the immediacy of sex and romance, and more on the consequences of love, how it makes people vulnerable and stronger all at the same time. This idea is echoed in multiple relationships across the novel – Kae and Leila, Rachel and Aarons, Kyle and Eva. Friendships are tested, limits are pushed, and worlds both personal and all-encompassing hang in the balance. As usual, it’s all wrapped in Moraine’s gorgeous prose, and while I’m sad to see this series ending, I can’t wait to see what they move onto next.

All the Birds in the Sky
All the Birds in the Skyby Charlie Jane Anders perfectly captures what it’s like to be an awkward kid precisely at the age when everyone is doing their best to fit in, be liked, and present some kind of face to the world that will allow them to be accepted. Patricia is a witch who discovered her power at a young age after rescuing a bird and hearing it talk. Laurence is a computer and science whiz who followed schematics he found online to build a two-second time machine. Both of these incidents early in their lives set them on paths that will having far-reaching consequences for their own futures, and the future of humanity as a whole. Patricia and Laurence are special, and that sets them apart, but as is often the case, their specialness sets them too far apart. Laurence’s parents want him to keep his head down, not rock the boat, and be normal. Patricia’s parents think she’s a little hooligan. None of the other kids at school like them, and by the time they reach middle school, this social ostricization throws them together and they become friends. Anders perfectly captures the cruelty of kids towards each other, and the vicious things they’ll do to those they perceive as weak in order to secure their own status in the pack. However it isn’t just kids who are cruel in Anders’ world; adults are willfully clueless, if not outright hostile at times, further isolating Patricia and Laurence. The story resists the usual chosen one narrative. While Patricia does get accepted into a magical school, the invitation only comes after weeks of being tormented on all sides, and by accepting the invitation, she essentially has to cut all ties with her family. For all this though, All the Birds in the Sky isn’t a bleak novel. The future is laced with hope to counterbalance the despair. After middle school, Laurence and Patricia find their way back into each others’ lives as adults. Patricia is struggling with her powers, constantly being told by the other witches around her to avoid Aggrandizing herself, overreaching her powers and causing something terrible to happen. Laurence is working for a billionaire, building secret super science projects and trying to access other dimensions. At the same time, he’s struggling to maintain a budding relationship with his new girlfriend who he’s terrified of losing. Anders repeatedly teases the possibility of several catastrophic outcomes from either Laurence or Patricia’s particular talents. There are world-changing events in the offing, apocalyptic even, but even as these events come to the fore, the story never loses sight of the characters. It’s the little moments of interaction, and the humor Anders laces throughout, that make the novel shine. Patricia and Laurence aren’t always kind to each other. Their relationship is complex, and it evolves over time, and it feels all the more real and human because of it. Anders manages to balance charm, quirkiness, and dark moments as deftly as she blends the magic and science within the book so none of it ever feels out of place. All the Birds in the Sky is a kind of tapestry, one woven from wool and silk, hemp and ribbon, artificial intelligence and spells, feathers and electrical wires. Taken separately, the elements seem like they’ll never form a picture, but when you step back, the result is glorious. It’s a fun book, but one full of genuine emotion as well. As with Humphrey, this is Anders’ debut novel, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

2 Comments

Filed under Recommended Reading

An Interview with Claire Humphrey

Claire Humphrey was kind enough to drop by to talk about her debut novel, Spells of Blood and Kin, among other things. To get things started, I will stick with tradition and shamelessly steal her author bio by way of introduction…

Claire Humphrey’s short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex, Crossed Genres, Fantasy Magazine, and Podcastle. Her short story “Bleaker Collegiate Presents an All-Female Production of Waiting for Godot” appeared in the Lambda Award-nominated collection Beyond Binary, and her short story “The Witch of Tarup” was published in the critically acclaimed anthology Long Hidden. Spells of Blood and Kin is her first novel.

Spells of Blood and KinACW: Welcome! Congratulations on Spells of Blood and Kin. I adored this novel, and I feel pretty darn lucky to have gotten a sneak peek at it. For those who haven’t read it, could you give readers a hint of what’s in store for them?

CH: Thank you so much! Spells of Blood and Kin is what happened when I tried to write a light urban fantasy to distract myself during a tough time in my life. I failed at the distraction, and I failed even more at making it light. (I think I did okay with the urban fantasy part.)

Spells of Blood and Kin is about what families hand down through generations, both the good and the bad. One of the families is related by blood in the usual way. One of the families is related by blood in a supernatural way. Both families are kind of dysfunctional.

ACW: One of the things I found particularly brilliant about the novel is that it’s essentially a werewolf novel that never once uses the word werewolf. It also resists the tropes of moody/tortured/misunderstood-but-ultimately-awesome-person-turned-into-a-wolf and portrays a genuinely pained and terrible condition. Where did the roots of the story come from for you? Did you set out to write an ‘anti werewolf’ novel? If not, what inspired it?

CH: Actually when I first set out I wanted to write a fun paranormal romance. But that wasn’t in me. I initially imagined Nick as a charming lightweight who develops emotional depth through being turned into something new, and Lissa as a responsible girl who learns to let loose a little. And I was going to have them get together! But as I began writing, those tropes felt so false to me: not that others shouldn’t use them, but I couldn’t write them. I started to understand Nick as someone who takes his own power way too lightly, and hurts others as a result, and Lissa as someone weighed down by her duty, by a heritage that can’t easily be cast aside. And those are just the mostly-human.

I had been writing stories about Gus Hillyard–Maksim’s family member, for lack of a better word–for a while. None of those stories were fun. They were mostly about coping strategies, about surviving instead of thriving, about the high price we pay for being born and staying alive–and the price we exact on others. Gus and Maksim have learned that when they let themselves get close to anyone, they have the power to cause immense damage. They each deal with that power in different ways: Gus by becoming an alcoholic drifter, Maksim by walling up part of his nature with magic.

We all have that power in reality, of course. The bond of blood–literal or metaphoric–is what keeps us close even when we’re hurting, or being hurt, or both.

ACW: The novel also draws heavily on Russian fairy tales, mythology, and history. What kind of research did you do for Spells of Blood and Kin?

CH: I started with a pair of books my parents gave me so long ago that I feel like I’ve had them always. They’re reproductions of Russian folk tales from 1899 with gorgeous illustrations by Ivan Bilibin. One is about Vasilissa going into the forest to get magical fire from the witch Baba Yaga: this one’s described in my book. The other is about Vasilissa’s later life as a powerful witch turned into a frog by the sorcerer Koschei the Deathless; she convinces a prince to marry her and hunt down the sorcerer to break his spell. Both are full of rich images of skulls, animals, eggs, trickery and bargaining. Those stories formed the thematic heart of the book.

As I wrote, I had to dig into some practical, factual stuff too, of course. One of my favourites was a book called The Soviet-Afghan War, by the Russian General Staff, which contained intense detail of troop movements and composition, and analysis of engagements which the Russians felt they had lost. I ended up using almost nothing from this book but it was fascinating to read.

I’m a pantser generally when it comes to research: I’ll be halfway through a scene, trying to describe a vehicle or a house or a piece of clothing, and then I’ll realize I don’t know enough about it, and start Googling. I have a lot of books in my house, too, on topics like historical weaponry, homes and costumes, so I usually have something helpful I can consult.

ACW: Shifting gears a bit, there’s a question I like to ask my fellow Canadians. In your mind, are there particular tones, themes, or subjects that make a piece of literature quintessentially Canadian? If so, do you ever consciously draw on them in your own work, or deliberately avoid them?

CH: There’s a lot of Canadian fiction dealing with families and inheritance, with the idea of baggage carried across the ocean and bestowed on a new generation. A whole lot of us in this country came from somewhere else, or our parents did, and we didn’t always get to choose what we brought with us. This book takes that trope and makes it magical.

ACW: On a related note, since you live in the Toronto area and quite a few other excellent speculative fiction writers have settled there, is there anything about the neighborhood that makes it especially speculative in your mind? Having recently visited, I feel there are certain areas ripe for inclusion in SFF stories. Do you have any favorite spots that inspire your stories? If not, are there generally things about the city that inspire you – bookstores, parks, museums, restaurants, must-see places you’d recommend to first time visitors?

CH: I struggled with how to answer this question, because I don’t find Toronto magical at all. After some thought I realized that I don’t find any places magical. I’m not that writer. I actually want exactly the opposite from a place: I love places that have a strong and particular sense of themselves, an air and a look that can’t be found anywhere else. I lean on these places to ground my work. To me, stories with speculative elements need a strong counterbalance.

Toronto is an easy one for me because I’ve lived here for almost two decades, and even before that, I always yearned toward it. My Toronto is a gorgeously messy place: graffiti murals in the alleys off Queen West, fruit smashed on the streetcar tracks of Spadina. Every bar with a raunchy basement bathroom painted some garish colour. Kensington Market, Parkdale, Little Italy, Little Portugal, all thronged with people, usually celebrating something: religious parades, soccer wins, zombie walks, all-night art festivals. It’s a city that rewards you for just walking out the door and joining the rush.

ACW: In addition to your novel, you’re also the author of some stunningly brilliant short fiction. On a purely selfish note, might you ever set additional stories – or a longer work – in the world of ‘Your Figure Will Assume Beautiful Outlines’? (Because boxing and magic are an awesome combination as far as I’m concerned.) On a more general level, how does your process differ in writing short fiction versus a novel?

CH: Oh, thank you! The world of “Your Figure Will Assume Beautiful Outlines” is actually a world I built for my first novel… a novel that won’t see the light of day unless I am prepared to substantially rework it, as it’s more than a quarter of a million words long and still not nearly finished (!) Never say never, though, right? I love the world and I’m sure I will set more stories there, even if that novel stays in the trunk.

In general I guess I start novels with a character, while I start stories with a feeling. Stories are easier to feel your way through without much of a plan, and I do. I wrote the first draft of Spells of Blood and Kin without a formal plan, also, and was delighted to discover I’d given it an intricate structure anyway (kind of a repeating chiastic structure–although I’m not sure all of this survived through the multiple drafts). The next book I wrote turned out to naturally follow a three-act structure, without my conscious intervention. For the one I’m now working on, I actually made a three-act plan before I began writing, although I’ve departed from it a little as I go. It’s helping me write faster.

ACW: Now that Spells of Blood and Kin is out in the world, what’s next for you?

CH: The novel I’m currently working on in set in the same world, this time with Gus Hillyard as the protagonist–she’s my favourite character to write, and I’m loving spending time with her, although so far this book is pretty emotionally difficult.

I’ve also got some new stories in the pipeline–I haven’t been writing as much short fiction lately and it feels good to have some things lined up. The most recently published is a story called “Crew 255″ in Dominik Parisien’s Clockwork Canada anthology. The anthology consists of steampunk alternate histories of Canada, and my story is about Portuguese workers coming to rebuild downtown Toronto after an airship explosion.

ACW: Thanks for stopping by! Now that I know about your plans for the next novel, I’m very much looking forward to reading Gus’ story.

CH: Thanks so much for having me, and for the great questions!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Author Interview