Janine Cross Interviews… Suzan Palumbo!

September 28, 2023

Your debut short story collection, Skin Thief published by Neon Hemlock, comes out this October. In the collection, you use nature, Gothic hauntings, shape shifting, and Trinidadian folklore to explore issues of racism, and homophobia, among others. How do you think horror as a genre, and this book specifically, can be a tool for social critique?

Real life is horrific in many ways and horror allows us to highlight the pain, grief, isolation, disgust, repulsion, terror and rage we experience as part of being human without having to soften or apologize for the spotlight we shine on that reality. 

Skin Thief is full of protagonists who are deeply flawed and fragmented in literal and metaphorical ways, dealing with painful and horrific circumstances. They are just like real people who make mistakes or are unsure of what to do, and have to deal with consequences, in worlds that aren’t constructed for their comfort; worlds like our own, that are rife with oppression, injustice, selfishness, violence and heartache. 

While I use nature, Gothic hauntings, shape shifting and folklore in speculative ways to illustrate the inner conflict and turmoil experienced by the characters, the core of the book is very much situated in reality. All of the emotions and reactions the characters experience are what many people feel every day. People feel monstrous. They are afraid, full of guilt or ashamed. I wanted to look at those emotions without flinching or trying to hide from them. I wanted to put together a collection that had a painfully honest emotional heartbeat and hopefully I’ve managed to do that. 

Can you talk about the complexities of identity and patriarchy that’s woven throughout your stories, and how do they play out in the plot and for the characters?

Because I try to be as emotionally honest as I can when I write, a large portion of the stories in the collection deal with women navigating patriarchy in different forms and at different stages in their lives. I cannot speak for everyone’s experience with patriarchy but mine has been full of violence, to be frank, in the physical, emotional, economic, sexual, political, social and cultural areas of my life. I know what it’s like to be powerless, to be threatened, to not have control of your destiny, to be forced to deny your sexuality, to experience physical violence, to not have the opportunity to support yourself financially, to not be taken seriously, to be told everything about you is wrong. The characters in Skin Thief encounter all of these circumstances and grapple with them. Patriarchy and the way it manifests isn’t the only obstacle they encounter, there are others, but it is certainly an un-ignorable part of the world in many of the stories. 

As a co-administrator of the Ignyte Awards and a member of the Hugo nominated FIYAHCON team, what exciting changes are you seeing in the current horror/dark fantasy cannon? How do you think your book fits into that?

The Ignyte Awards are a speculative fiction award series founded by myself and L.D. Lewis. The awards, “seek to celebrate the vibrancy and diversity of the current and future landscapes of science fiction, fantasy, and horror by recognizing incredible feats in storytelling and outstanding efforts toward inclusivity of the genre.” Creating and running these awards has been one of the most personally rewarding projects I’ve ever been apart. They bring such joy to the community and I love when we can come together and celebrate positive aspects of genre. I’m very heartened by the changes I’ve been seeing in the industry and cannon. There are many BIPOC writers and queer writers publishing stunning horror. They are being acknowledged and celebrated and it gives me a lot of hope that this will continue and that we can look forward to reading diverse stories written from POVs that have been under represented. 

My collection is not the first collection of Canadian Trinidadian short stories. But, I do believe it is one of the first to directly label itself as a horror and dark fantasy collection. The stories “Laughter Among the Trees” and “Douen” are among the first stories to be nominated for the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards by a person born in Trinidad. (If they are not, indeed, the first.) I did not know of any queer Trinidadian Canadian horror writers when I was growing up or in University. I’d never seen myself reflected completely in a horror story before. I’m extremely grateful to readers and the horror community for seeing value in my work and who push for diverse storytelling. If this book inspires one other person to feel like they belong in horror, or make a connection they hadn’t before, then all of the effort putting this collection together will have been worth the effort.  

Who are some of your favourite writers who influenced you, and have your tastes in horror changed over time?

I grew up reading all of the classic Gothic romance and horror writers: Mary Shelly, Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker, Charlotte Bronte, Daphne Du Maurier etc. I absolutely love The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I think it’s a perfect book. Angela Carter is another favourite of mine, particularly her collection, The Bloody Chamber. The line, “Now you are at the place of annihilation,” from Carter’s story “The Lady of the House of Love,” always makes me shiver. One of my favourite contemporary writers is A.C. Wise. I love her horror short stories so much, I asked her to write the introduction to my collection and she said, “Yes.” In the last couple of years I’ve loved collections by Paula E. Dashe, Rhonda J. Garcia and Carlie St. George. I adore Hailey Piper and Eden Royce’s work as well.

I do think my tastes in horror have changed slightly. When I first began reading, I tended to reach for more literary work. I still love literary horror but these days I find myself reading a lot more body horror and folk centered horror. I’ve also become increasingly fascinated with the concept of “the final girl” in horror films and I’ve been seeking out work that interrogates that construct.

How does your non-writing life play into your fiction writing?

I love learning about animals, gardening and camping. I often incorporate these hobbies into stories. Gardening has taught me a lot about patience and waiting, which has come in handy in my publishing endeavours. I also like to draw and play music but I’m not great at either. I tend to write a lot about creative frustration and my struggles with those pastimes provide a lot of inspiration! Finally, as I mentioned previously, I was born in Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidadian culture, history and dialect appear throughout my work because they’re integral to who I am and I enjoy smashing those parts of myself with my Canadian upbringing when I write.

What’s one piece of advice you would give authors of dark literature today?

That idea that you have that you think is too weird and transgressive to write? You know the one that you shy away from? Write it. Run as fast as you can towards it and don’t look away. Confront it. I think some of my best stories, the most original, are the ones I was terrified to write but wrote anyway.

Thanks very much for hosting me and for the thoughtful questions!

Joel McKay Interviews… Caitlin Marceau!

December 02, 2022

Caitlin Marceau is a queer author and lecturer based in Montreal. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing, is an Active Member of the Horror Writers Association, and has spoken about genre literature at several Canadian conventions. She spends most of her time writing horror and experimental fiction, but has also been published for poetry as well as creative non-fiction. Her work includes PalimpsestMagnum Opus, and her debut novella,This Is Where We Talk Things OutHer second collection, A Blackness Absolute, and her debut novel, It Wasn’t Supposed To Go Like This, are set for publication in 2023. For more, check out her website at www.CaitlinMarceau.ca  or find her on social media. 

Q: Your debut novella, This is Where We Talk Things Out, was released in September and follows the gut-wrenching, and, frankly, disturbing journey of Miller and her estranged mother, Sylvie. Author Laurel Hightower described it as “one of the most horrifying reads of the year.” Tell us how the exploration of a mother-daughter relationship worked as a solid root for a horror story.

A: I think there are a few reasons why this premise works so well in horror. The first is that, for most of us, we’re told that our parents are supposed to love us, keep us safe, and have our best interests at heart. So when they suddenly (or actively!) don’t, it’s naturally upsetting to us. It goes against one of the few things in life that we’re told to expect as true, which is always a great jumping-off point for a scary story.

I think another reason that it works so well is because it’s so possible. When you read about monsters, demons, or ghosts, there’s a level of disbelief that has to be suspended in order to let the terror of these stories really seep in. But family? Most of us know how quickly things can go from good to bad, so the idea of a mom snapping after the death of her husband isn’t as far-fetched or even as hard to relate to as, say, a vengeful spirit.

Q: Horror is experiencing a renaissance, but so is the novella. Why do you think we’re suddenly seeing so many horror novellas entering the publishing space? What is it about their structure that’s finally attracting the attention of writers, publishers and readers?

A: This is a great question and I wish I had a great answer for it! Unfortunately, I’m really not sure what’s driving the push for novellas in today’s climate. Part of me wants to believe it’s audiences having a deeper appreciation for the care and lean storytelling that goes into the medium (and this probably is the case!), but a more jaded side of me wonders if it’s people not having the attention span for novels, but still wanting more than a short story. Personally, writing This Is Where We Talk Things Out as a novella was purely accidental! I knew what story I wanted to tell when I started it, but I had no idea just how long (or short!) it was going to end up when I started writing it.

Q: This is Where We Talk Things Out is set in the remote Quebec wilderness in winter. How do you feel Canada and its geography lends itself well to horror stories? How do you think our voices add to or can influence the direction of horror literature?

A: Canada’s geography is perfect for horror! We’re like the second largest land mass in the world, but most of it is so treacherous that the majority of us live near the American border. And even with all of us grouped together that way, we’re so massively spread out across the continent that we’re still easily isolated from each other. Canada is the perfect country for horror stories and it always surprises me how under-utilized it is in the genre. I think that having more Canadian authors will not only help showcase just how nightmarish our country can be—and I really do mean that in a good way—but will also help highlight some under represented sub-genres (like isolationist and environmental horror).

Q: Laughlin Hills Community Magazine Issue 1 was also just published. You’ve described it as perhaps your favourite project yet. It seems to strike a balance between horror, comedy and the absurd. Tell us about it, and why do you think comedy and the absurd compliment horror so well?

A: I think it all comes down to that suspension of disbelief that I mentioned earlier. When you read horror, you have to be open to some absurd ideas right out of the gate. I mean, Dracula really doesn’t read as well if you refuse to buy into the idea of an immortal man sucking blood to stay alive, you know? It’s hard to watch Eight Legged Freaks if you won’t accept the premie behind it. But if you’re going to read something about giant spiders and have lowered your guard to accept the existence of a man-eating arachnid for the sake of the media you’re consuming, then there’s nothing to stop you from also accepting that his name is Claude and that he enjoys roller-derby on Thursdays too.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?

A: Write the stories you’ve always wished you could read. It’s the advice that Tamora Pierce gave me when I met her as a kid and I swear by it to this day. When you write stories you’re passionate about as a reader, your job as a writer gets a lot easier! I think a lot of people worry about writing stories for the current market, but that changes all the time. So don’t focus on following trends, focus on starting your own. 

Q: What’s next for you?

A: So. Much. Stuff. My collection, Femina, is out from DarkLit Press on December 3rd so I’m really excited and really nervous for that release. Laughlin Hills Community Magazine Issue 2: Winter 2022 is also coming out this December from DarkLit Press and my illustrated chapbook,A Cold That Burns Like Fire, is out December 13th from Shortwave Publishing. So December is a wildly busy month for me! My third collection, A Blackness Absolute, then comes out in February from Ghost Orchid Press, and then there’s a slew of books coming out over the course of the year (some announced and some still tightly under wraps). So, you know, keeping pretty busy!