Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions, with Michael Kelly

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Michael Kelly

Horror writer and aficionado Michael Kelly tells Open Book why he believes horror is the best genre for exploring the workings of the human psyche, provoking empathy for others and understanding the shadow-sides of ourselves. He will launch the new anthology Chilling Tales: Evil Did I Dwell; Lewd I Did Live (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing), a collection of short stories by some of Canada's best horror writers, at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 19th at Bakka Phoenix Books in Toronto. Visit their website for more details.

Open Book:

Tell us about the anthology Chilling Tales: Evil Did I Dwell; Lewd I Did Live.

Michael Kelly:

Chilling Tales is a rarity: An all-original, all-Canadian horror anthology.

I love short fiction. I love horror stories. I love Canadian writers. Why not, I thought, combine all three? Part of the impetus was Don Hutchison’s landmark, seminal Northern Frights series. But even that series, as great as it was, wasn’t wholly Canadian. I can count on one hand the number of all-Canadian horror anthologies. It was, simply, time for another. If it does well, we hope to keep it going. It’d be great to provide an annual showcase for Canada’s dark fiction scribes. I see a renaissance in the realm of Canadian genre and speculative fiction, particularly as it relates to horror.

OB:

What was the process of editing Chilling Tales like, and how did you select the stories to include?

MK:

Once Brian Hades at EDGE Publishing was on board with the concept, I went about contacting various Canadian horror writers that I admired and that I knew shared a similar aesthetic with me. Some of the writers were more known for their science fiction and fantasy work, yet, being familiar with their oeuvre, I felt I could coax a horror story from them. I contacted about 40 writers with the anthology’s précis. Putting together an anthology is an interesting organic task. As the stories came in I weighed them against each other in terms of plot, theme, tone, pacing, etc. All the things you need consider when putting the book together as a whole. I even considered stuff like word-length and the point-of-view in which the tale was written. Eventually, I had eighteen wonderful, diverse stories.

OB:

Is there a particular story in the anthology that really stands out for you?

MK:

Gah! No. What I really mean, though, is "yes." I love them all. Today I’ll say "Dead." Yesterday I might have said "The Weight of Stones." Tomorrow it is definitely "The Carpet Maker," or "Tom Chestnutt’s Midnight Blues." They all stand out in their own way. It’s an eclectic and interesting mix of styles. It’s like picking a favourite child — you probably could, but you really shouldn’t. ☺

OB:

What attracts you to the dark fantasy and horror genre?

MK:

Horror, I think, more so than any other strain of literature, allows for the self-examination of the human psyche. People interest me. Characters. We’re all flawed creatures, and horror, through metaphor, mood and atmosphere, is able to gaze with an unblinking eye on societal issues. I enjoy the trappings of the genre, and, of course, a good scare. There’s something cathartic about being scared, even when there any no easy answers to the troubling questions.

OB:

What is required for a horror story or novel to be successful?

MK:

The same requirement of all good writing, I think: empathy. We don’t necessarily have to like the characters, but we do have to have to be able to empathize, somewhat, with their plight or situation. There needs to be some common ground, a mutual sharing of thoughts or feelings, if even on a minor, basic level. Empathy will lead to compassion, then to caring.

OB:

What advice do you have for writers who are just getting started writing in this genre?

MK:

Write with joy and passion. Write with pain. Write what’s in your heart. Bleed a little. Experiment. Step outside your comfort zone. And push past the boundaries and explore that other side. Read widely in the genre, from past masters like Robert Aickman, Shirley Jackson and Poe, to ascendant stars like Nina Allan, Laird Barron and Glen Hirshberg.

OB:

Andrew Pyper is an example of a writer whose books interest both readers of literary fiction and readers of the thriller/horror genre. Do you see this happening more frequently, or do you feel that the genre is unnecessarily segregated?

MK:

To me, it is rather uncommon to see that crossover success. It’s unfortunate, and I’d dearly love to see more people reading horror, whether labeled as horror or not. There’s a certain stigma, in some reader’s eyes, about reading horror. It’s been ghettoized (in no small part due to the raft of execrable novels published in the late 1980s to capitalize on the horror boom created by Stephen King) for far too long now. Horror is as literate as any form of fiction.

OB:

Who are some of your favourite authors?

MK:

Aside from the six I mention above, I will add: Nathan Ballingrud, Charles Beaumont, Nadia Bulkin, Italo Calvino, Ramsey Campbell, Raymond Carver, Gemma Files, Elizabeth Hand, Kathe Koja, John Langan, Thomas Ligotti, Haruki Murakami, Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O’Connor, Norman Partridge, M. Rickert, Nicholas Royle, Simon Strantzas, Steve Rasnic Tem, Tia V. Travis, Paul G. Tremblay, Lisa Tuttle — and numerous others.

OB:

What can you tell us about your current writing project?

MK:

I’ve written a few short stories recently, so I’ll either try to find homes for them, or hold onto them with an eye toward publishing another collection. I also publish and edit a small literary journal, Shadows & Tall Trees, which takes up a good amount of my free time. I’m in the middle of putting together Issue 2 for a Fall release. Readers can find out more at the website www.undertowbooks.com.

OB:

What can we expect at the launch of Chilling Tales at the Bakka Phoenix on March 19th?

MK:

Cookies! Honestly, they have the best cookies at their launches. So, there better be cookies. About a dozen contributors to Chilling Tales will be on hand to read from their work and sign books. There will likely also be prizes and giveaways. After the launch? Drinks! So, I implore you all to come out and celebrate a great Canadian book.


Michael Kelly is the author of Undertow and Other Laments, as well as co-author of the novel Ouroboros. His short fiction has recently appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Best New Horror, PostScripts, Space & Time, and Supernatural Tales. Michael is a Shirley Jackson Award–nominated editor for the anthology Apparitions. He also runs Undertow Publications and its flagship publication, Shadows & Tall Trees.

For more information about Chilling Tales: Evil Did I Dwell; Lewd I Did Live please visit the EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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