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Northern chills: conversations on Canadian horror literature

(illustration: Louise Reimer)

(illustration: Louise Reimer)

Gemma Files


Why did you introduce queer characters in your western-horror Hexslinger novels? I’d been writing queerness in my horror before Hexslinger. I’m a slasher from way back. (“Slasher” is a slash fan-fiction writer who takes two straight, same-sex characters from pop culture and pairs them up together.) I love the idea of someone like Chess Pargeter – one of Hexslinger’s main characters – being gay. I love the idea of someone being a complete badass, and also frilly as hell. He has no problem with it. I am also happy I ended up with a two-spirited character in the narrative. I didn’t have a checklist of things I wanted to get into, but there were certain tropes in westerns that I wanted to explore.

How do you define Canadian literary horror? In Survival, Margaret Atwood wrote about the juxtaposition of great natural beauty and the impossibility of living in that beauty. All of us on some level know we’re not supposed to be on this land, whether or not we reconcile with the fact that we stole it from people who were here originally. After a certain point, after you’ve been there long enough, it doesn’t really matter how you got there. There’s something rejecting, dour, and flinty at the heart of your home.

There’s a reason that Alice Munro’s story cycle is called Who Do You Think You Are? That’s the prototypical Canadian question: “Who do you think you are? Do you think you’re better than me? You think you’re hot shit!” That translates really well to a narrative where everyone’s problem is that they  are a monster. – Alison Lang