September 18, 2012

Those Bloody Canadians: an interview with Michael Kelly

After reading the Canadian anthology, Chilling Tales, I had the chance to ask its editor, Michael Kelly a few questions about writing, horror, and Canada. Enjoy.

Gef: What, if anything, do you feel sets Canadian horror apart from horror in other countries?

Michael: Well, in my introduction to Chilling Tales (an all-Canadian anthology) I posited an argument that there’s a certain ‘disquieting solitude’ pervading Canadian fiction, especially horror fiction. Perhaps it’s a combination of our ties to the British monarchy and this vast, barren land of ice and wheat we inhabit. On the surface, Canadian horror fiction, of course, is a variant of the American and British strains. But there’s an ontological approach that many Canadian writers, even ones writing ‘urban’ fiction, follow. A subtle distinction, I believe, that sets Canadian horror apart.

Gef: For a casual reader, Canadian literature might be associated more with Muskoka chairs and melancholy. Do Canadian horror and dark fantasy authors have their work cut out for them in getting their voices heard?

Michael: Writers of all stripes have their work cut out for them in this regard. Do Canadian writers have it harder? No, I don’t particularly think so. Good writing will always be heard. And Canada has some of the best. There’s been a bit of a renaissance recently in relation to the Canadian horror scene. That’s because we have a number of Canadians, from all across the country, writing at the top of their game. And since I’m closely connected to the Toronto scene, I can tell you that it’s an exciting and creative time. I’ve seen this building for a number of years now, though, so it doesn’t surprise me. Also, publishers like ChiZine, and anthologies like Chilling Tales and Tesseracts are showing that Canadian speculative writing is as good as any.

Gef: How did it come about that you not only helmed the Chilling Tales anthology, but also its follow-up?

Michael: I was a big fan of the Northern Frights anthologies that Don Hutchison edited in the mid-nineties.

It was my strong belief that we needed something akin to that again. So, I approached Brain Hades at EDGE, which was Canada’s most well-known genre publisher at that time, and pitched him the idea of a new “Northern Frights.” I didn’t say I wanted to edit the volume, just that I thought someone should do it. Having seen the success of the Toronto horror community, I knew it was a viable project, that there was enough quality material. Brian said sure, but only if I edited it.

So, I was happy to do so. Volume 1, in my estimation, was a success. Two of the stories ("Looker" by David Nickle, and "Stay" by Leah Bobet) were reprinted in The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 4, edited by Ellen Datlow, and eleven others received Honourable Mention. Volume 2 will be out in March 2013, with another cracking line-up.

Gef: Not only do you edit, but you also co-wrote my favorite novel of 2009, Ouroboros. How much of a gear shift is there from working as an author to working as an editor?

Michael: Thanks for the kind words, Gef. Really gratifying to hear you liked the novel. To me, the transition from author to editor is a difficult one. They are two very different beasts, with different skill sets.

Writing, to me, is intuitive and organic, while editing suggests a more critical approach. Perhaps it’s just the way I’m wired, but I can only seem to work at one of the tasks, author or editor, at a given time.

If I’m writing, I have to finish that project before I can switch to the editor’s hat, and vice versa.

Gef: When it comes to short fiction, who are some of your favorite authors?

Michael: Robert Aickman, Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, Italo Calvino, Ramsey Campbell, Raymond Carver, John Collier, Harlan Ellison, Dennis Etchison, Elizabeth Hand, Glen Hirshberg, Shirley Jackson, Kathe Koja, Fritz Leiber, Thomas Ligotti, Richard Matheson, Haruki Murakami (when he writes a short), Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O’Connor, Reggie Oliver, M. Rickert, Lisa Tuttle.

And here are some contemporary writers and friends who are doing interesting work: Nina Allen, Stephen Bacon, Nathan Ballingrud, Laird Barron, Ray Cluley, Gemma Files, Richard Gavin, Adam Golaski, Alison Littlewood, Gary McMahon, Ralph Robert Moore, David Nickle, Ian Rogers, Nicholas Royle, Lynda Rucker, Simon Strantzas, Halli Villegas.

So, as you can see, short fiction is in good hands.

Gef: How much does working on short fiction contribute to being able to write longer works?

Michael: While I think that writing short stories and novels need different approaches, they both, unlike editing and writing, are of the same skill set. Writing is writing, after all. And it’s better to write than not to write. I’m not of the mind-set that says that if you want to write novels you should start by writing short stories. That is a distinct unkindness to all the short story writers.

If you want to write novels, then write novels. If you want to write short stories, write short stories. The important part is the writing.

Gef: What other projects do you have on the go, and where can people find out more about your own work?

Michael: Well, as mentioned, Chilling Tales 2 will be out Spring 2013. I have short stories appearing this Fall in Tesseracts 16, A Season in Carcosa, The Grimscribe’s Puppets, and Supernatural Tales. Also this Fall I’ll be attending the World Fantasy Convention. Hope to see some of you there. And I edit and publish the acclaimed journal Shadows & Tall Trees. You can find out more about it here:

... and I’m also on Facebook, Google+, LiveJournal, and Goodreads. Thus far, I’ve resisted Twitter.

Thanks for having me over, Gef!

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