ChiSeries, a cross-Canada reading series of speculative fiction, has landed in humble Peterborough after starting branches in Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Ottawa.
On October 16, at 8pm in Sadleir House, three authors from the Peterborough area will be making up the second ChiSeries event, after their inaugural ‘Speculating the Queer’ author reading during Peterborough Pride.
Hosted by Derek Newman-Stille, the event will feature authors Kate Story, Ian Rogers, and Ursula Pflug.
But what is ‘speculative fiction’?
“It’s complicated, a lot of people use it in different terms,” said Newman-Stille, but he defines it as a “blanket term for anything not realist,” such as horror, science fiction, and fantasy.
“Canadians tend to view horror, science fiction, and fantasy genres as from away,” he commented, later adding, “I think there’s something really important about Canadian spec fic in particular. Canada does things differently. We tend to create morally grey characters… We like to leave open endings frequently.”
“Ghost stories are a lot about the history of a place, our feelings about the land, and people’s fears.” He continued, saying that the “erasure of history, particularly Aboriginal history” in Canada serves in the need to create these narratives.
Kate Story commented, “I think there’s still a ghettoization of speculative literature and I’ve never understood why.” She sees the ChiSeries as a distinct opportunity. “I think it’s a sign that things are changing…but to have a speculative reading series in Peterborough is so exciting. The status of speculative literature has changed and Peterborough has changed.”
On the topic of her own productions, Story said, “I write a real range of stuff. I have two novels published, some short stories, and a bit of memoir. I also write for theatre. I’ve written a number of one-person performance pieces and a few plays. What I write about the most… it’s blood memory— intergenerational memory. Comes up again and again in my work.”
She added, “I feel like I notice things being glossed over in society at large and it makes me angry. And so I like to write about things that are glossed over.”
Coming up, Story is part of the Carbide Tipped Pens anthology coming out in December as well as Stone Skin Press’ 21st Century Bestiary, for which she wrote about unicorns.
Having heard Story perform this story at another author reading, Newman-Stille commented, “She talked about how the women in particular really love the horn!”
Story said she’d probably read the unicorn story on October 16.
A play she rewrote from one of her short stories is also upcoming. Running November 5-9 at The Theatre on King, Romeo and Juliet: Superstar Ice-Miners of Europa!!! is being put on by Em Glasspool’s Mysterious Entity theatre company.
Speaking of Ian Rogers’ work, Newman-Stille calls him “our local horror author.” He explained that Rogers writes “a mix of the supernatural and detective noir” in the world of the Blacklands, where portals to other worlds emit monsters into the land of the stories.
His story collection, Every House is Haunted, features “werewolves, vampires, killer trees… spectres, spooks and ghouls,” explained Newman-Stille, the idea behind the collection being that “we always live in a haunted space.”
The collection features a story set in Peterborough. Candle in the Window is instantly recognizable to Peterborough residents as set locally due to the smell of Quaker Oats.
Ursula Pflug said, “I think my work is literary fiction with elements of the fantastic woven through it, whether fantasy, science fiction, magic realism or what have you. My most recent novel, Motion Sickness, is the least fantastic of them all, although Heather Spears said it takes place ‘on the verge of the real,’ which I absolutely love.”
She remarked, “I’ve had four books go to press in the last year, two novels, a story collection and an anthology I edited.”
“Ursula is kind of one of these characters you hear about all over in Canadian SF [science fiction],” Newman-Stille commented, adding that she excels in her use of “poetic qualities, word play, the interplay of imagery.”
“I’m going to read from Harvesting the Moon,” said Pflug, “It’s a gorgeous hardcover collection of previously published stories that came out in Britain in the summer, from Specialty Press PS.”
“Storytelling is a form of connection,” remarked Story, “There’s something actually incredibly important about telling stories, talking about what happened and making meaning.”
Referring to her experiences with a changing narrative, she explained how coming out as a lesbian brought up certain memories from the past, while then coming out as bisexual in turn caused different memories to surface. Story explained how the narrative we tell about ourselves “changes our past, which changes our present, and then of course changes the future. When you tell a story, it becomes reality.”
“I think there’s something ethereal about storytelling,” said Newman-Stille. He spoke about the malleability of oral narratives, whereas when a story is written down “it’s fixed”. When an author reads, they interact with the audience and “that performativity is a conversation with that audience. That’s what I really want to do, open up a conversation between story, author, audience.”
“I have students who ask me to show them how to write a best seller,” Pflug commented, “The problem with this approach is if you spend three years of your life writing what you hope will be a best seller, and fail, which is the most likely outcome, what have you gained for your time? But if you spend the same three years working hard to become the best writer you can be, honing your craft and crystallizing the vision that is unique to you, you’re going to have gained some skills that transfer to other areas of your life. Even if you don’t find a publisher, or publish the book yourself, you’ve accomplished something worthwhile that will probably make you a happier and better person. You’ll know yourself with a new and completely unanticipated depth, just for starters.”
“I think cultural production is work, but occasionally I think ‘does anyone read anymore?’ It’s kind of a weird hobby like taxidermy,” said Story.
Well, weird hobbyists, come out of the shadows!
To keep up with the Peterborough ChiSeries, check out chiseries.com, facebook.com/ChiSeries, or Derek Newman-Stille’s website speculatingcanada.ca. He also does Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, Wednesdays at 4pm.
Said Pflug, “Remember – buy a book and feed an author.”