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Northern chills: conversations on Canadian horror literature

Michael Rowe


Where did your attraction to the genre originate? I didn’t deliberately set out to be a horror writer. I’ve written essays, works of journalism, and mainstream literary fiction, and my first book was a book of interviews with erotica writers talking about censorship in mainstream media. I can certainly understand the question, but it has been my experience that people don’t ask these questions of writers in other genres. People don’t usually ask what attracts you to romance or science fiction because they are more socially acceptable obsessions.

Why isn’t horror fiction socially acceptable? Horror fiction makes you feel things viscerally. In many ways it occupies the same literary territory as erotica does. It makes you feel fear, and erotica makes you feel sexually aroused. They both come from a puritanical aspect of the culture that suggests and imposes the notion that somehow these things are too physical and not cerebral enough.

How do you describe the genre? My publisher, ChiZine Publications, basically invented what passes as the Canadian horror genre today. It’s the only publishing company that has consistently published, within Canada, horror stories, and called it horror. The field is still small. Nick Cutter and Andrew Pyper are the great white sharks – they’re easily identifiable – but there are a lot of other writers who are saying, “Let’s set our stories here.”

Why don’t we set more stories in Canada? There was a terrible prejudice about not setting work here because the assumption was American audiences wouldn’t care, and no one wanted to read about Canada – it’s another example of this colonial phenomenon that our culture suffers from: we are always in someone else’s shadow and worried about whether other people will like us instead of saying, “Yeah, we’ve got the oceans, the wind-swept mountain passes and the remote Maritime villages, and the waves crashing on the rocks.”

My own fascination is with Ontario cottage country and northern Ontario. I find it so spooky. I’d stack our northern Ontario and its wilderness against any forest in Maine, or any of these places considered acceptable places for horror. – Andrew Livingstone