Sunday Interview # 19

Hi, all!

I wasn’t sure I’d have an interview for you today, but Derek Newman-Stille stepped up to the plate. Thanks so much, Derek! I’m so glad you got back to me so quickly. 🙂

I recently started following his blog because I love reading (and watching) fantasy and science fiction. Without further ado, I’d like to introduce him to you.

Welcome to my blog, Derek! Please begin by telling my readers a bit about yourself.

Thank you for inviting me. I am a PhD student in the Frost Centre for Canadian and Indigenous Studies at Trent University. My research is focused on the representation of disability in Canadian speculative fiction, particularly looking at the way monstrous protagonists (heroic werewolves, vampires, zombies, and other ghoulish creatures) are used to symbolise the issues that come up for people with disabilities like inaccessible space (there are just certain places a werewolf can’t go… and don’t even get me started about light-unsafe spaces for vampires…), being treated as social outsiders, being treated as medical curiosities and subject to the medical idea of a “proper body type”.

As a person with disabilities, I have often found myself identifying with the outsider experience that many monstrous protagonists encounter in Canadian Speculative Fiction, so I thought this would be a great meshing of my diverse interests.

I live in Peterborough, Ontario with my partner and our rabbit. Along with my scholarly research, I also paint and work on a blog about Canadian speculative fiction called Speculating Canada  that conducts interviews with Canadian speculative fiction authors, reviews Canadian speculative works… and adds on a little bit of lit crit just for fun.

I have taught courses at Trent university on the literary history of the werewolf and also about witches in the Greek and Roman world… really fun stuff. And I have to say, I love teaching things like this because one gets the most interesting students and the most fascinating conversations arise.

Your blog is called Speculating Canada: Canadian Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy. Why did you decide to create a blog about Canadian Speculative Fiction? How does it vary to SF in other countries?

I decided to create a blog about Canadian SF for a few reasons that sort of came together at the time. I have always thought that it is important to recognise authors and give them feedback and I wanted a way to show authors that their work really excites readers and does more than just entertain readers. That is why I include some analysis in my reviews rather than just discussing how much I enjoyed the work. Authors know that their work is liked by the number of sales it gets, but I like to also show them that their work is received as more than just fun – it is a thought-provoking venture that really gets the audience thinking and changes their perspective.

At the same time I was thinking about ways to show authors the incredible impact of their work, I was also struggling with some health issues and loss of memory. I found that writing small blurbs on the works I was reading helped me to remember them so that I could use them for my research. It occurred to me that I could publish those blurbs with some tweaking for a public audience and accomplish both.

Regarding the Canadian-ness of Canadian SF, it is very tough to create a set definition of the differences. I don’t think I could define a specific aspect of Canadian SF that differentiates it from other nations, but there is some undefinable aesthetic, a feel about it that is different from other types of SF. There are definitely some themes that surface such as the fascination with the idea of “the Other” and the outsider. Canadian SF authors also show an interest in a certain moral greyness, a complexity of morality. There are generally no easy heroes or villains, but rather complex characters that have to battle with their moral questions. Canadian SF also shows a fascination with the idea of home and the way that home can draw one back when one tries to escape from it. Memory is another feature of Canadian SF and, particularly, the way that memory haunts us… or sometimes the way that a lack of memory haunts us. Canadian SF generally exhibits a suspicion about easy answers and about optimism and the notion that “things will work out for the best”. Mix this general pessimism with a healthy dose of humour and you get a really complex narrative.

Do you write speculative fiction yourself? If so, what types of things do you like to write about?

I am not a speculative fiction author myself, but I am a speculative artist, of sorts. My art is heavily influenced by a speculative element and engages with speculative subjects. If you are interested, you can check out some of my paintings at http://www.dereknewmanstille.ca/works.php . I really enjoy the fantastic and I think that comes through in my work, particularly with its engagement with surreal landscapes and a flavour of the magical and mythic.

What is it about speculative fiction that most fascinates you?

I think the thing that most interests me about SF is the question that it embodies – the fact that it lives in a realm of ideas and ponderings. I am a person who loves to ask questions and loves to learn. Speculative Fiction brings me into the world of inquiry where everything is unfamiliar and new. 

I find that often the best way to find out about ourselves is to venture into an unfamiliar and new territory, so whenever I read about the alien or the monstrous or the fantastic experience, I find out more about what it means to be human.

I enjoy that SF tries to see possibilities and perhaps offers some cautions about the way things are going, or proposes a new possibility for the way things COULD go.

What is your favourite type of SF to read for recreation? Are there any authors that you read consistently or do you like to sample from a variety of authors?

I am not sure that I have a favourite type of SF. I like to read a wide variety of SF and I find that my tastes vary from day to day. I love to be exposed to new authors and see the incredible variety of work that is available. I just wish there was more time to read even more work… too many books, too little time.

Writing the Speculating Canada site has actually exposed me to an even wider variety of authors, so it has been an amazing and incredible project.

I have read some of your interviews of SF writers on your blog. They have been fascinating and you love to delve into why they wrote what they did – the motives behind the words. Who are some of your most memorable interviewees?

I find every interview has its new excitement. Every time I speak to a new author, I get a new level of insight and new ideas about their work. Authors have incredible insights. Being able to see into worlds of possibility, they often have incredible self-awareness and insights into the human experience. I love to ask authors questions that give them the chance to provide deeper insights into their thought processes, and their insights about the world around them.

When reviewing SF books, what are some of the criteria that you use to help you provide such an in-depth analysis of them?

Oddly enough, I mostly let the book lead me. I try to go in to every new book with a very open mind and general curiosity and then get pulled in by the author’s whisperings between the lines. I feel that there is something new and exciting to learn from everyone and that each new encounter with literature is an educational experience that will open my mind to new ideas and perspectives that I hadn’t dreamed of. 

In addition to your blog, you are also on Facebook. Are there any other social media sites where we can find you?

I only really use Facebook and my blog for social networking. Originally I was only using my blog, but I wanted an opportunity to engage with readers a bit more, have a chance to talk to them and get their insights and ideas. There are so many brilliant people out there with a passion for Speculative Fiction, and it is great to have the opportunity to engage with that excitement.

Is there anything else you’d like to add before we close?

I just wanted to add that it has been a really interesting experience to be interviewed. Thank you. I have gotten so accustomed to being the interviewer and reviewer and it is great to be able to change roles. I like being the figure who asks questions, so it is nice to be brought out of my comfort zone and cast into the light. 

I hope it wasn’t too uncomfortable for you, Derek. Thanks for joining us today! 🙂

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9 comments on “Sunday Interview # 19

    • I’m glad I was instrumental in introducing the site to you! It really is great with lots of interviews and book reviews, as well as some interesting quotes. He’s introduced so many books I now want to read when I finally carve out some time for them. 🙂

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