Friday, October 30, 2009

Hey, it's going to be Halloween tomorrow!

And we've got plenty to be thankful for here at the Yard. The reviews have been good for Monstrous Affections, the writing on the new project of which we shall not speak has been going well, and next week, the Yard will be putting on its best duds and heading off to the Writer's Trust Gala in Toronto...

... and okay, it is true that technically Halloween is not the holiday upon which we give thanks for things. It is more a day to watch videos like this:

Happy Halloween, Yard-apes. Go easy on the brains.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Monstrous Dissection...

... of monsters, in an interesting and provocative way, can be found at the Chronicle of Higher Education today, in Monsters and the Moral Imagination by Steven T. Asma. For long-time monster-afficionados such as we, his revelation that a close reading of Dracula " will reveal not only a highly sexualized description of blood drinking, but an erotic characterization of the count himself," or that the lesson of the Frankenstein movie franchise is "We must overcome our innate scapegoating, our xenophobic tendencies," may seem a wee bit obvious.

But Asma goes on to suggest that the idea of monster might serve as a kind of moral playground for people - that by objectifying threats in a fantastical way, we can imaginatively map out our response to threats, menace and the world as it actually presents itself.

Writes Asma: "The monster concept is still extremely useful, and it's a permanent player in the moral imagination because human vulnerability is permanent. The monster is a beneficial foe, helping us to virtually represent the obstacles that real life will surely send our way. As long as there are real enemies in the world, there will be useful dramatic versions of them in our heads."

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Because while it's true that thinking about how you might deal with a brain-eating zombie that's gotten into your house one night might give you some ideas about how to deal with a burglar who's done the same, the legal and moral implications of taking out human thieves with head-shots are fundamentally different than are those of doing the same to the maggoty brain pans of the walking dead. Given that, I'm pretty sure I'm not anxious to equate monstrous behaviour in our species with fantastical monsters, as Asma does with a band of suspected Taliban members who murdered Malim Abdul Habib, a headmaster in Afghanistan who dared educate girls along with boys.

Writes Asma: "My point is simply this: If you can gather a man's family together at gunpoint and force them to watch as you cut off his head, then you are a monster. You don't just seem like one; you are one."

Drawing lines like those maps out a dangerous country. Because as much as we ought to be outraged by the behaviour of murderers, assigning them mythical otherness is the same thing as denying their humanity. And that is a fast route to bloodshed, a long road to genocide.

Sometimes, to paraphrase Sigmund Freud, a monster is just a monster. Or it should be.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

There Will Be Launching

... a lot of launching in Toronto on November 14. ChiZine Publications is going all-out on their fall lineup, which includes my collection Monstrous Affections, for what amounts to a day-long festival of signing and sipping and chatting, in two very cool locations.

The day starts at Bakka-Phoenix, Toronto's venerable sf bookstore, at 2 p.m. There, Robert Wiersema (The World More Full of Weeping), Claude Lalumiere (Objects of Worship) and I (Monstrous Affections) will hold court with a room full of loved-ones and Bakka-Phoenix regulars.

Robert will leave us after that, but Claude and I and the ChiZine crew will make tracks to The Central, a night-spot on Markham Street near Bloor and Bathurst, to start the evening launch, from 7:30 until about 11.

So there you have it. Plenty of notice. A daytime launch for those afraid of the dark. A nighttime launch for those with unusual allergies to sunlight (you know who you are). And oh yes, addresses:

Bakka-Phoenix is at 697 Queen Street West, just west of Bathurst Street.

The Central is located at 603 Markham Street, also just west of Bathurst Street.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Quill & Quire weighs in...

Okay, back to the stupid collection.

Quill & Quire's November edition features a fantastic review of Monstrous Affections (which was starred) in the midst of an also-fantastic piece about ChiZine Publications and its fall releases, Objects of Worship by Claude Lalumière, and The World More Full of Weeping, by Robert Wiersema.

I cannot link to it right now, alas - Quill & Quire does not post their print editions immediately online. But I can certainly quote from Alex Good's very good review.

He speaks very well of ChiZine, which he says in its first year has filled "the homegrown horror and fantasy genre with its own compelling brand of what its website calls 'weird, surreal and disturbing dark fiction.'" He adds: "Most impressive, however, is how good the books have been."

In describing Monstrous Affections, Good maddeningly avoids the quotable tag line. But I am stoked to note that he describes my half-baked Castle-Rock-esque community Fenlan as "a town somewhere deep within a perverted version of Alice Munro country." I will not argue - although this marks the first time the name Alice Munro has been invoked in connection with anything I've ever done. Later on, he suggests that Fenlan is also a bit "eldritch" (look it up, yard-apes!), which is nearer the sort of thing one such as I might reasonably expect from reviewers.

He likes my ability to write central-Ontario mountain man: "The stories work so well in part because of Nickle's facility with the language of the place he's created. He is comfortable writing in different voices, including that of a nearly illiterate young woman in the excellent 'Janie and the Wind,' and he knows the idiom of his semi-rural environment, where a house might stand 'miles outside town, on an ugly flat scratch of land where the grass grew too high and you saw the neighbours by the smoke from their woodstoves in the winter.'"

Then, after heaping praise on Claude and Robert (I will leave it to them to yank quotes for their pieces in their own blogs) he gives Michael Rowe, the author of the introduction to Monstrous Affections, centre stage in articulating a manifesto for Canadian Gothic that puts Robert, Claude, me and ChiZine in the middle of our own little regional literary movement. To wit:

"It is impossible to experience horror - which is a destination, not a departure point - without first experiencing the security of a place, literal or conceptual, from which the ground will fall away, revealing a vast, awful blackness."

Finally Good brings it home, like so:

"In each of these three books, an archetypal Canadian literary setting becomes 'an eternally rediscovered country,' transformed by imagination. In other words: yes, it's Canadian literature. And it's fantastic."

* * *

What I like about this (aside, obviously, from the very kindly-placed star beside Monstrous Affections) is the formally critical eye that Good brings to the good work that ChiZine Publications is doing. Because really, nobody's done darklit in this country with as much care, energy and savvy as ChiZine is doing now. Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi know beautiful books when they see 'em; their designer Erik Mohr knows how to make 'em, and does, with a terrifying consistency of vision.

Darklit (I think this can become a bona fide canlit term, but I'll need your help with that, Yard-apes - spread the term!) has not really gotten its due in this country, in spite of much good work being done in the past. I'm thinking particularly of Don Hutchison, who pioneered Canadian horror in the Northern Frights series of anthologies and is a particular influence and mentor to me, and the aforementioned Michael Rowe, whose Queer Fear series staked out the territory for queer-themed horror fiction in the same way.

But if Don and Michael led lonely wagon trains - lonely by dint of the simple fact that they were editing one book at a time - Brett and Sandra are leading a full-fledged migration, with whole lines of books raising dust on the plains. Early next year, Gemma Files - one of the finest writers of short horror fiction in this country, and probably on this continent - will see her first novel, A Book of Tongues, published under the ChiZine imprint. Douglas Smith, whose fiction is a bit brighter than Gemma's or mine or Claude's, will see his story collection Chimerascope on shelves around the same time. There will be many more.

And Quill & Quire at least, has Alex Good marking a welcome for them, and hopefully paying close attention to their particulars as they arrive.

It's not all about me and my stupid collection...

... it's also, some days, about the Devil's Exercise Yard's honorary Sergeant at Arms, Tom Waits - the razor-throated troubadour who a year and a bit back announced his Glitter and Doom tour's schedule to the usual room-full of reporters.

Well, turns out he wasn't just faking. There was a tour. It went to places more than a day's drive from the Yard, and so the Yard sent its regrets and listened to it on NPR's website. This month, Mr. Waits is releasing a live album based on that tour in two disks: one, a compilation of songs like this one:

... the other, an edit of between-song patter for those who go to Tom Waits shows for the storytelling.

The LP (it comes out on vinyl as well as CD) doesn't show up until November 24. But Waits has offered up a huge dollop of the thing for nothing, at his own website. Eight tracks. For free. Just like the Yard does with short stories.

I have just finished listening to them. I could go on for awhile, telling you about Yodeling Elaine and her dollar-sign medallion; or how exactly you get a cheery rendition of Singapore to play so sweet. Or precisely why Fannin Street makes me weep. Far better, I think, to just give you this link. For free Glitter and discount Doom.

Right here.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Hey! The Globe and Mail linked to the Yard!

And so the Yard returns the favour, and links back to the Globe!

John Barber, the Globe's publishing reporter, did a little piece on Monstrous Affections' good reception at Publisher's Weekly, and put it up on the Globe's In Other Words books blog. Apparently, this is John's first blog posting in his capacity as publishing reporter, so it is auspicious - and for the purpose, he has made use of the least-flattering picture of me available on the internet, and so it is doubly-auspicious.

Mostly, though, it is freaking cool. Google analytics tell me that there are a goodly number of Globe-heads coming over to see what the fuss is about. Hopefully, if we are very quiet, yard-apes, they will look around and like what they see, and buy many many copies of Monstrous Affections.

In the meantime, here is a more flattering picture of me. For next time.