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Northern chills: conversations on Canadian horror literature

(illustration: Louise Reimer)

(illustration: Louise Reimer)

Sandra Kasturi


How has the definition of Canadian horror changed since 1997, when ChiZine started out as a website? Canadian horror writers have been trying to define the genre for a very long time. I think a lot of it is tremendously informed by environment. We live in a country where – especially in the winter – the outdoors can kill you. That has a subconscious effect on who you are as a person and as a writer. Going back to Susanna Moodie and that pioneer writing and terrible hardship – horror does that too, but with monsters.

How has genre fiction changed? Taboos are starting to fall away. Things that people were not supposed to talk about can be talked about now. That’s reflected in what we’re writing. Horror in particular is so much about being the “other.” People who are gay or trans were for so long experiencing these feelings,  and here was a way to talk about that in a genre that seemed tailor-made for it. Horror, sci-fi, and fantasy are in some ways terribly conservative. You still get that extreme conservatism, the refusal to want to experience new ideas. That said, seeing more queerness and the dissipation of the white boys’ club is nice. But these are not things that happen overnight.

What makes a horror manuscript stand out? Writing style, clarity of vision. Is the plot cool? Do I care about the characters? I want that creeping dread. I want it to stay with me. I want to be worrying about it in the middle of the night. Vampires and zombies have been done to death. Paranormal romances are everywhere. You start to think there’s nothing new under the sun. But you can write those stories as long as no one has the same voice as you. – Alison Lang