The Qwillery | category: ChiZine Publications


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Interview with Timothy S. Johnston

Please welcome Timothy S. Johnston to The Qwillery. The War Beneath was published by ChiZine Publications on January 1, 2019.

Interview with Timothy S. Johnston

TQWelcome back to The Qwillery. The War Beneath, the first novel in your new The Rise of Oceania series, was recently published. Describe The War Beneath using only 5 words.


Underwater espionage science fiction thriller.


Hold your breath or die trying! (That’s six words, I know.)

TQTell us something about The War Beneath that is not found in the book description.

Timothy:  Every scene takes place underwater, either in a submersible, a habitat, or while swimming. There is no exposition or dialogue above the surface or on land at all.

TQYou seem to like putting your characters in inhospitable environments. Why did you choose under water for this series?

Timothy:  For this book, I imagined a world suffering from global warming and rising ocean levels. To me the oceans are the next frontier for humanity. There are untold resources there that we will undoubtedly look to as temperatures continue to increase on land. Another reason might be that because the characters live in an intense undersea world, and are always under greater pressures than at the surface, this mirrors the pressure of the situations they’re dealing with. It ramps up tension and keeps readers turning the pages.

TQWhat kinds of research did you do for The War Beneath?

Timothy:  I had to study marine exploration over the past century or so. I had to learn about innovations in the past and what might be coming in the near future. Also, I had to understand what living under pressure — in a saturation environment — would mean for people. The inhabitants of the undersea world can’t swim to the surface in an emergency (they would get The Bends) and I had to learn about this and be able to explain it without interrupting the adventure and excitement. I also had to study the undersea environment: the bathymetry, marine life, geology, and so on. The research and plotting always takes longer than the actual writing, to make it all seem more realistic. It was lots of fun!

TQIn a prior interview you stated that you are a plotter. Did any of the characters in The War Beneath surprise you?

Timothy:  Oh yes! This always happens when writing. Side characters turn out to be very likeable, or they turn out to be better villains than I had originally planned. I don’t want to say who, though, but when writing, a character will suddenly tap you on the shoulder and say, “Hey, what if I did this? Wouldn’t that be cool?” A novel is an organic thing once you begin writing. Even though I have the broad brush strokes down before writing the first word, each character takes on a life of their own and helps direct the story in a natural, dramatic, and tense fashion.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The War Beneath.

Timothy:  Erik Mohr of Made by Emblem in Toronto designed it. I think it’s brilliant, but I have to confess that my publisher and the artist are responsible for it. The floating corpse near the surface was a fantastic choice. It ensures readers know that this is an underwater thriller, especially with the structure partially hidden by the depths.

TQDoes The War Beneath touch on any social issues?

Timothy:  The most emotional theme in this book is one of fathers and sons. It’s something I think about sometimes. Growing up, we look with admiration and adoration at our fathers. The position a father reaches in life also puts great pressure on sons. How are we supposed to achieve what our dads have? How are we supposed to exceed their accomplishments? This is particularly difficult when the father is famous or has reached monumental goals in life. I feel for children of celebrities, for instance. However, the corollary of this is, What if the father has committed an unspeakable crime? Something the son is ashamed of? How does it affect the son’s growth and development? This is a major theme in The War Beneath. The title has a dual meaning, and this is it.

TQYou are an unrepentant genre bender. Where does The War Beneath fit in the genre spectrum?

Timothy:  It’s a thriller, and it has a science/technological element, so it is science fiction thriller. It is for mainstream readers, however, so it might also be called a technothriller. It’s a grand underwater adventure though. I describe it as Mission: Impossible meets The Hunt for Red October, or sometimes as James Bond underwater. I think its appeal is very broad. There is a healthy dose of science in this book too.

TQYour prior series, The Tanner Sequence, was a trilogy. What do you have planned for The Rise of Oceania?

Timothy:  This is a series. I’ve already written the first three books and they are either out or in the pipeline. The Savage Deeps is coming November 2019. I’m also hoping to extend it to six books in total, but we’ll have to see.

TQDo The Rise of Oceania and The Tanner Sequence share anything thematically?

Timothy:  The environments in my books seem to always be hostile. By that I don’t mean that the ocean is hostile; I mean that it’s dangerous. If a character goes outside for too long, they’ll die. This adds tension and heightens drama in any situation. As a writer, I enjoy this. As a reader, I think it makes for a page-turner. Several reviewers have already said they found themselves holding their breath during underwater action sequences. This pleases me to no end.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The War Beneath.


        When I had awoken that morning, I’d assumed it would be the same as any other day. Now here I was, mentally preparing myself to pursue and kill a traitorous operative of TCI. A former friend. It was surreal.


        A minute later the warsub began searching with her active sonar, pinging away once every couple of seconds. No doubt they had detected us heading for the seamount and had heard our thrusters cut out. Since we were now a part of the bottom terrain, however, I hoped that they could not see us.
        And then the unthinkable happened.
        She started to drop her mines.

TQWhat's next?

TimothyThe Savage Deeps is coming in November 2019. Fatal Depth is coming in 2020 (both from ChiZine Publications.) I am currently making the book-signing rounds in Southern Ontario. I love meeting other fans of science fiction thrillers.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Timothy:  Thanks for having me again! I hope people will enter their names in my draw for TSJ swag! I have new stuff to give away. Also visit my blog at to read my movie, book, and videogame reviews and also to enter my contests.

The War Beneath
The Rise of Oceania 1
ChiZine Publications, January 1, 2019
Hardcover, Trade Paperback, and eBook, 350 pages

Interview with Timothy S. Johnston
Living and working underwater can be a dangerous thing. First the bulkheads sweat, then there’s a trickle of water . . .

. . . and then in an instant you’re gone. The only thing left is a bloody pulp in the dark water and crushed bone fragments on the seafloor.

And you can’t bolt to the surface in an emergency. . . . The bends will get you.

But that’s not the worst. When you’re living underwater and also working as a spy for your city, that’s when things get really dangerous.

Truman McClusky has been out of the intelligence business for years, working the kelp farms and helping his city Trieste flourish on the shallow continental shelf just off the coast of Florida. Until his former partner shows up, that is, steals a piece of valuable new technology and makes a mad dash into the Atlantic. Before he knows it, Mac ends up back in the game, chasing the spy to not only recapture the tech, but to kill his former friend.

But when he learns the grim truth behind the theft, it sends his stable life into turmoil and plunges him into an even deadlier mission: evade the submarines of hostile foreign powers, escape assassins, and forge through the world’s oceans at breakneck pace on a daring quest to survive, with more lethal secrets than he thought possible in his pocket.

The future of the city depends on McClusky . . . if he can make it back home.

About Timothy

Interview with Timothy S. Johnston
Timothy S. Johnston is a lifelong fan of thrillers and science fiction thrillers in both print and film. His greatest desire is to contribute to the genre which has given him so much over the past four decades. He wishes he could personally thank every novelist, screenwriter, filmmaker, director and actor who has ever inspired him to tell great stories. He has been an educator for twenty years and a writer for thirty. He lives on planet Earth, but he dreams of the stars. Visit to register for news alerts, read his blog and reviews, and learn more about his current and upcoming thrillers. Timothy is the author of THE WAR BENEATH and THE SAVAGE DEEPS. His futuristic murder mystery/thrillers include THE FURNACE, THE FREEZER, and THE VOID. Follow Timothy on Facebook @TSJAuthor and Twitter @TSJ_Author.

Author Giveaway

What: 3 prizes / 3 winners:
1. A signed copy of the trade paperback of THE WAR BENEATH + TSJ pens and bookmark.
2. TSJ Pens and Bookmark package.
3. TSJ Pens and Bookmark package.
Interview with Timothy S. Johnston

  • Send an email to theqwillery . contests @ [remove the spaces]
  • In the subject line, enter “Beneath“ with or without the quotation marks.
  • In the body of the email, please provide your name and full mailing address. The winning names and addresses are used only to mail the giveaway items and is provided The Qwillery and to the author only for that purpose. All other address information will be deleted by The Qwillery once the giveaway ends.
Who:  The giveaway is open to all humans on the planet earth with a United States or Canadian mailing address.

When:  The giveaway ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time on April 14, 2019. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change without any notice.*

Interview with David Demchuk, author of The Bone Mother

Please welcome David Demchuk to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Bone Mother was published on July 18th by ChiZine Publications.

Interview with David Demchuk, author of The Bone Mother

The QwilleryWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

David Demchuk:  I always had a vivid imagination and loved words and storytelling from when I could first speak (I was an exhausting child), so you could say I was a writer well before I could actually write.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

DD:  While I often have a loose structure in mind (and quite often have something of an ending to aim for), I tend to be a pantser for the first third of any given project, and then more of a hybrid after that.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

DD:  Overcoming crippling self-doubt and maintaining discipline and momentum. There's really no other way to say it. As I reach various milestones in a project (fairly predictable milestones at that), my confidence begins to waver and various insecurities creep in and then the second-guessing begins. By then I'm in the thick of it with no clear path through and I find myself wondering if I should go back keep going or tear back or give up entirely. It's at times like that that you have to turn a cold clear eye on the work and then, more often than not, just push through till you can get a better perspective. But it's tough. Every story I start, I feel like I've completely forgotten how to write and have to learn all over again. But after many years I've come to recognize it for what it is, and remember that there is no formula or recipe, there are no rules, you just have to write.

TQYou have been writing for theater, film, television, radio and other media for over 3 decades. How does this affect your novel writing?

DD:  Well, I have the benefit of years of experience--which hopefully translates into a certain level of craft, an understanding of structure and conflict, a respect for the values and characteristics of each medium I've written for, an awareness of the needs of the audience whether it's one person or one thousand. I have a certain level of discipline and tenacity, or flat-out stubbornness. And I'm old now, so publishers and producers and directors and editors are more inclined to trust me and let me have my way. Conversely, I'm more inclined to trust them and to let them into my process so we can support each other with our strengths.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

DD:  In general, I'm still heavily influenced by books I read as a child and stories that were read to me, as well as the movies and television and music that I grew up on. My mother read to my brother and me from very early on, and I was a precocious and voracious reader throughout my childhood and teenage years. For specific projects, I am usually inspired by something I read in the news or overhear in conversation or a question or issue that comes up in my life that I can only work through by writing about it, creating a mental and emotional process where I can look at the question from different perspectives and the conflicts created between them.

The Bone Mother is a bit of an exception in that I started it almost arbitrarily. I decided I would start the year (in this case 2015) with a new project and that I would find some photographs in the public domain to use as prompts--each one would be a different character, and in adding them all together I would tell a larger story and create a larger world for them. I was very lucky to find the archive of Romanian wartime photographer Costica Acsinte. His work was very much the impetus for the stories that make up the novel.

TQDescribe The Bone Mother in 140 characters or less.

DD:  The last mythical creatures of Eastern Europe tell their stories and face their destines as they await a war that may eradicate them forever

TQTell us something about The Bone Mother that is not found in the book description.

DD: Interspersed through the book are four longer contemporary pieces, set in North America, told by the children and grandchildren of those few creatures who survived. Some of them know their heritage, some do not. They are, in a way, part of a supernatural diaspora.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Bone Mother? What appeals to you about writing horror and why did you focus on Eastern European mythical creatures?

DD:  As I mentioned earlier, the Acsinte photographs were the spark for the book. What they did, I think, was unlock a long-forgotten knowledge of and interest in the stories I heard and read about when I was a child, about the enigmatic forest witch Baba Yaga (who of course is The Bone Mother of the title) and creatures like the strigoi and the rusalka. Some of the classic monsters of horror--the vampire and the werewolf in particular--have their roots in these legends.

I've long been a huge horror fan (in short fiction and novels, in film, television and video games), but had not had many opportunities to actually write in the genre. As I started the book, I realized that I was writing a series of love letters to the stories and characters that scared and delighted me as a young reader.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Bone Mother?

DD:  I drew a lot from my own knowledge of Ukrainian culture and from life in small towns and on farms--I'm a prairie boy after all--but I did need to research some of the more obscure Eastern European legends, as well as what happened in Ukraine and Romania before and during the war. Many of the true stories are more frightening than anything that I could make up.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Bone Mother.

DD:  The cover artist is the award-winning Erik Mohr, who is responsible for almost all of the covers for ChiZine Publications. His amazing covers are one of the reasons why I first approached ChiZine. They're just such beautiful books. And while it's not an image specific to any one story, I would say that his illustration is a superb evocation of The Bone Mother herself.

TQIn The Bone Mother who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

DD:  One section is about a young boy, Andreas, who visits a haunted house on a dare and finds a reflection of himself. This piece tumbled out in one evening of writing, it was like transcribing a horrible dream. His voice came out perfectly. I think it was one of two pieces that never changed from the very first draft.

The hardest was a character named Gregor, the narrator of one of the contemporary pieces. As I reached his section, I had a crisis of faith around the intensity of the horror in the book. (In the end I needn't have worried.) As a result, I decided to write a character who would frighten me personally. Unfortunately I succeeded, and I ended up gritting my teeth, having violent nightmares, and just generally dreading every moment I sat at the keyboard. He left a nasty mark on me that took a while to get over. I promptly wrote a love story as a kind of antidote, and that piece can be found near the end of the book.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Bone Mother?

DD:  In dark times, people turn to dark stories for affirmation, for catharsis and for illumination. I think the best works of horror are those that speak both to the cultural anxieties of their time and to the ageless fears that we all carry. Much of The Bone Mother is centred on the effects of war on those who have the least power to fight, particularly on women and children. The fairytales and folklore that are the basis of The Bone Mother often focus on mothers and children--mothers who reject their children or who try to destroy them, mothers who try to save their children or who sacrifice themselves so their children may live, surrogate mothers who take in children that others have cast out or left behind. The book looks at that within the context of war in order to grapple with the choices that desperate people make in desperate situations. I also gave special attention to gay and lesbian characters and to characters who we would now consider to be transgender, as these voices and stories, particularly in historical settings, continue to be underheard and underappreciated.

TQWhich question about The Bone Mother do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

DD:  "What scares you personally?" Everything scares me, actually--I'm a catalogue of phobias: heights, water, enclosed spaces, crowds, spiders, interviews ;) The one thing that doesn't scare me is snakes--I have always loved them (but I could never have one as a pet because I can't handle their eating habits).

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Bone Mother.

DD:  "Knitting is a good way to pass the time when you're waiting for something to die."

"But the Bone Mother is a wicked witch who eats naughty children!" I cried.
"Good children do taste better," she said wistfully, "but there are so few of them. If you can be satisfied with naughty children, you will always have food on the table. They are never in short supply"

TQWhat's next?

DD:  I will be at Readercon and Necon in the month of July, and I have some other readings and book launches scheduled between now and November. I'm expecting to start a new book in the fall--but that's as much as I'll say for now.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

DD:  Thank you very much for inviting me!

The Bone Mother
ChiZine Publications, July 18, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 300 pages

Interview with David Demchuk, author of The Bone Mother
Three neighboring villages on the Ukrainian/Romanian border are the final refuge for the last of the mythical creatures of Eastern Europe. Now, on the eve of the war that may eradicate their kind—and with the ruthless Night Police descending upon their sanctuary—they tell their stories and confront their destinies.

Eerie and unsettling like the best fairy tales, these incisor-sharp portraits of ghosts, witches, sirens, and seers—and the mortals who live at their side and in their thrall—will chill your marrow and tear at your heart.

About David

Interview with David Demchuk, author of The Bone Mother
David Demchuk was born and raised in Winnipeg and now lives in Toronto. He has been writing for theatre, film, television, radio, and other media for more than thirty years. His publications include the short-fiction cycle Seven Dreams, and the Lewis Carroll adaptation Alice in Cyberspace, and appearances in the anthologies Making, Out!, Outspoken, and Canadian Brash. His reviews, essays, interviews, and columns have appeared in such magazines as Toronto Life, Xtra, What! Magazine, and Prairie Fire, as well as the Toronto Star. Most recently, he has been a contributing writer for the digital magazine Torontoist. The Bone Mother is his first novel.

Website  ~  Twitter @david_demchuk  ~  Facebook

2016 Debut Author Challenge Update - Shadows in Summerland by Adrian Van Young

The Qwillery is pleased to announce the newest featured author for the 2016 Debut Author Challenge.

Adrian Van Young

Shadows in Summerland
ChiZine Publications, May 17, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 350 pages

Boston, 1859. A nation on the brink of war.

Confidence men prowl the streets for fresh marks. Mediums swindle the newly bereaved. Into this world of illusion and intrigue comes William Mumler, a manipulating mastermind and criminal jeweler. Mumler hopes to make his fortune by photographing spirits for Boston’s elite. The key to his venture: a shy girl named Hannah who sees and manifests the dead and washes up on Boston’s harbor along with her strange, intense mother, Claudette.

As Mumler and Hannah’s fame grows throughout Boston, everybody wants a piece: Bill Christian, a brothel tough; Algernon Child, a drunken rival; Fanny A. Conant, a sly suffragette; and William Guay, a religious fanatic. These rogues among a host of others, including the great spirit rapper Kate Fox, form powerful bonds with the spirit photographers, one of which will end in murder. Mumler’s first and last mistake: the dead cannot be made to heel.

Roughly based on the real-life story of William H. Mumler, spirit photographer and his clairvoyant wife, Hannah Mumler, Shadows in Summerland immerses the reader in a shifting world of light and shade where nothing is quite what it seems at first glance. A soaring and resplendently Gothic novel spanning three decades, it is as much an homage to the Golden Age ghost stories of Edith Wharton and Henry James as it is a companion to the revisionist historical epics of Peter Carey and Sarah Waters, with a little steampunk all its own.

I have to share the book trailer! I love it!

Interview with Nick Cutter - June 24, 2015

Please welcome Nick Cutter to The Qwillery. The Acolyte was published by ChiZine Publications in May 2015.

Interview with Nick Cutter - June 24, 2015

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? Are you a plotter, panster or a hybrid of the two?

Nick:  I think trying to keep up my production with a new family. A son, love him to death though I do, makes it tough to write as much as I used to. I was always used to writing 6, often 7 days a week. Now it's 5, if I'm lucky. Weekends are spent with the family. And if my son gets sick or we have something planned, of course he comes first. So it's a new challenge. I'm a pantser. I know plotters, I see people having great success with it. For me … maybe it's symptomatic of a scattered mind, but I don't think I'd be able to follow an outline even if I diligently wrote one!

TQThe Acolyte is your third published novel after The Troop (2014) and The Deep (2015). What distinguishes The Acolyte from the The Troop and The Deep?

Nick:  I think The Acolyte deals with more real-life fears—the first two books deal with our primal fears, I'd say, but there's a fantastical aspect to them in that they couldn't actually happen. Not that I think the events in The Acolyte are likely to happen, either, but the fears there are more having to do with religious intolerance, religious terror in a way, man's inhumanity to man, and as such it feels more of a "real world" book in that I'm trying to comment at least a little on present-day events and what scares me when I look at the world around me.

TQPlease describe The Acolyte in 140 characters or less.

Nick:  The church has become the state. A task force, The Acolytes, are entrusted with stamping out all base faiths. (is that too many characters?)

TQPlease tell us something about The Acolyte that is not found in the book description.

Nick:  There's a love story buried in there. You might have to look to find it, but by gar it's there!

TQWhich character in The Acolyte was most difficult to write and why? Easiest to write and why? Did any of the characters surprise you?

Nick:  I'd say a lot of them were difficult, for different reasons. I think primarily, one thing a writer struggles with (at least I struggle with) is making a character's actions emotionally valid and believable in regards to the plot. Y'know, sometimes you want your character to do this or that, you want to get to this crucial scene, you want to write it so badly for reasons of plot or just, y'know, it'd be a hell of a lot of fun to write . . . but you don't make it believable that the character would actually do it. You know, why is he there? Why did she do this or that? If the reason is "because the plot needed them to," well, that's okay, every plot needs its characters to do certain things, open certain doors, but if you haven't invested in the character's motivations leading up to that scene, well, it's going to show. And sometimes there are scenes where several characters come into it with motivations, and they all need to act believably within that framework—otherwise a reader will wonder, Why the hell did character X or Y make that abrupt left turn? When you first start writing maybe you think nobody will notice. They do. So the emotional template you start with . . . you have to stick to it. Or if a character has a change of heart, you have to build that up and work at it. So much of what you incept at the beginning of a novel, where maybe you're still trying to get to know a character yourself . . . anyway, I've learned to be aware of these things in terms of character development.

TQWhat sorts of research did you do for The Acolyte?

Nick:  Eh, not so much as you might think/perhaps hope. I read the bible cover to cover. That was arduous. Otherwise, really, just other dystopian novels. Trying to get a feel for how other writers approached them.

TQWithout giving anything away, please share one or two of your favorite lines from The Acolyte.

Nick:  Hereinafter let it be known: The Church IS the State.

TQWhat's next?

Nick:  I've got a couple books coming out under my real name. Precious Cargo, nonfiction, about my year driving a school bus. And a short story collection, too. As Nick Cutter, the next book is called Little Heaven.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Acolyte
ChiZine Publications, May 19, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 296 pages

Interview with Nick Cutter - June 24, 2015
Jonah Murtag is an Acolyte on the New Bethlehem police force. His job: eradicate all heretical religious faiths, their practitioners, and artefacts. Murtag’s got problems—one of his partners is a zealot, and he’s in love with the other one. Trouble at work, trouble at home. Murtag realizes that you can rob a citizenry of almost anything, but you can’t take away its faith. When a string of bombings paralyzes the city, religious fanatics are initially suspected, but startling clues point to a far more ominous perpetrator. If Murtag doesn’t get things sorted out, the Divine Council will dispatch The Quints, aka: Heaven’s Own Bagmen. The clock is ticking towards doomsday for the Chosen of New Bethlehem. And Jonah Murtag’s got another problem. The biggest and most worrisome . . . Jonah isn’t a believer anymore.

About Nick / Craig

Interview with Nick Cutter - June 24, 2015
Photo by Kevin Kelly
Nick Cutter is a pseudonym for Craig Davidson who is the author of The Preserve (as Patrick Lestewka), Rust and Bone, The FighterSarah Court (ChiZine Publications, 2010), Cataract City (Doubleday, 2013), The Troop (as Nick Cutter; Gallery Books, 2014), and The Deep (as Nick Cutter; Gallery Books, 2015).

Website ~ Facebook
Twitter @thenickcutter ~ Blog

You Could Win a NOOK from ChiZine Publications!

You Could Win a NOOK from ChiZine Publications!

Purchase a trade paperback copy of either Steve Rasnic Tem's Celestial Inventories or Christopher Golden's Tell My Sorrows to the Stones at Barnes & Noble or and email your proof of purchase to (In-store receipts can be scanned or sent as a photo.) Two lucky winners will be randomly picked from the draw and will each receive a Nook! And we're also throwing in the entire 2013 ChiZine ebook catalogue! Enter by Midnight PST on December 31st. Draw will be held on January 1st, 2014.

Guest Blog by Gemma Files, author of the Hexslinger series - Putting the Weird in Weird Western - December 16, 2013

Please welcome Gemma Files to The Qwillery. Gemma is the author of the Hexslinger series - A Book of Tongues, A Rope of Thorns, and A Tree of Bones - which will be published tomorrow in  The Hexslinger Omnibus edition, which features the 3 novels and bonus materials.

Guest Blog by Gemma Files, author of the Hexslinger series - Putting the Weird in Weird Western - December 16, 2013

Putting the Weird in Weird Western

I didn't set out to write a Weird Western, specifically, when I began my first Hexslinger Series novel, A Book of Tongues. Instead, it was a fortuitous collision of genres on my part, kicked into gear by my then-obsession with the movie 3:10 to Yuma (James Mangold's remake, not the original). Due to a depressing confluence of events—losing my job, my son being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, etc.—I'd spent the previous year writing nothing much except 3:10 to Yuma fanfiction, which in hindsight was not quite the ridiculous idea I thought it was at the time, since when I tallied up my word-count at the end of 2008 and realized that I'd already written the equivalent of a novel, it made my decision to actually sit down at the beginning of 2009 and see how far I'd get doing something a bit more original a very easy one indeed.

Of course, the plain fact is that most original fiction gets jump-started this way, whether or not its authors choose to be explicit about it. You obsess on something, then screw with it until it's not that thing anymore, not exactly: boil it down for parts, render 'till you find the grit inside the pearl, and grow a fresh new pearl of your own. So while the paragraph above explains why I chose to set A Book of Tongues in New Mexico, just after the Civil War—ie, it was a background I was already pretty damn familiar with, thus allowing me to skip the research portion of the evening and just dive right in—it was the basic process of making it “mine” that added the Weird to the Western, because what I write is horror.

Some people would be willing to call the Hexslinger Series “dark fantasy” rather than horror, but those people are being kind. I'm well aware of my proclivities—things tend to follow crooked paths into some pretty dark places with me at the helm, and the sheer amount of gore plus other bodily fluids that my characters routinely end up covered in, to my mind, establish the genre in question rather specifically. Actually, while I was working on Book, I used to call it a blood-soaked black magic gay porno horse opera, which I still think is essentially accurate...though grantedly, that's a bit hard to fit on a label.

Going into this project, I think I mainly took my mood and structural cues from formative stuff like Jonah Hex (the comic, not the movie), Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, Michael Ondaatje's poetry cycle The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, and William S. Burroughs's psychedelic Western fantasia The Place of Dead Roads. But that makes it sound more high-brow than it actually was, because there was a fair bit of Young Guns thrown in there, too, along Gary Jennings's massive history-pulp novel Aztec, and the single episode of David Milch's Deadwood I'd once caught in New York, when I was heavily pregnant. My mind works best when fed with as much garbage as I can get my hands on, so it'll rot quickly, producing its own compost. And out of that mulch something new hopefully emerges, like a homunculus cooked in a dung-heap.

Now that I look back on the process, however, it occurs to me that while it may seem as though horror and the Western have no business ever cross-breeding, the union is really an extremely natural one. Both are genres with their roots dug deep in the pulp tradition, either actively decried or dismissed outright by the mainstream. Both are, at heart, fantasies about power—having it, losing it, having it exercised against you. Because the Western takes place on the frontier, in the empty places (not really, of course, because Manifest Destiny was a poisonous construction designed to help white people not feel bad about rooking indigenous people's land out from underneath them), while horror is often about the familiar becoming unfamiliar, both can seem inherently conservative and normalizing: things intrude from the outside, upset the “natural” order, then get re-set—it might be zombies or Apache, but the collective usually triumphs. However, if you're prepared to mess with those patterns a bit, both can also actually provide a lens through which to reassess and question societal fundamentals, particularly as they apply to the toxic concept of the Other, or Othering.

With Westerns, this process is usually called revisionism, and you see it happening throughout the careers of genre backbone creators like John Ford (who goes from using indigenous people as human plot twists in Stagecoach, where the entire emphasis is on the threatened microcosm of white travellers, to challenging the polluting qualities of casual racism in The Searchers, in which John Wayne relentlessly pursues his kidnapped niece, perfectly willing to kill her in order to “save” her from potentially becoming “a squaw”) or Clint Eastwood (who moved from embodying the emblematic might-makes-right gunslinger in various Spaghetti Westerns to questioning whether or not a gunslinger can ever be anything but a hired killer in his own films, like High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales and Unforgiven). Revisionism, in turn, intersects beautifully with that strand of horror which reframes the “monster” in question not as something coming from outside the narrative/protagonist's POV, but from the inside—in which, to some degree, the protagonist becomes the monster, or discovers monstrous qualities in themselves while fighting one: horror which admits that if you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares also into you, as the old Nietzsche quote goes.

Given that there are mighty few characters in the Hexslinger Series who can be described as outright, uncomplicated “heroes,” this latter type of horror is definitely what I was going for—my protagonists are anti-heroes at best, complicated villains at worst, while my antagonists (even the least-human of them) were never designed to be simply bad for the sake of being bad. I wanted to place the Other at the centre of my narrative, and I started with the kind of Others I'm most strongly attracted to: cleric-turned-outlaw Reverend Rook and his lieutenant and lover, Chess Pargeter, whose mutually uplifting yet inherently self-destructive obsession with each other is the engine that drives most of the plot. I then added magic, creating a world in which some people suddenly bloom up into demi-deities at the point of death, only to be prevented from allying against the non-magicals who hate and fear them by their own desire to parasite off each other...though with the introduction of a Mexica/Maya goddess seeking rebirth through blood sacrifice, this may start to change, and does.

With each new instalment, however, I felt driven to try and deepen or spin as many of the characters I'd already introduced as I could, while also introducing others that would address problems of representation—female characters to match my male characters, a fuller spectrum of queer characters to match my central gay couple, plus a slightly less whites-only vision of the historic Wild West...and while I can't claim to be any more perfect in my intent or effects than any other privileged writer struggling with similar intersectional issues can, I'm still pretty happy with the result.

So there we have it: the Western and the Weird, allied for great spectacle, plus—hopefully—at least some justice, if occasionally only at random. So check the Hexslinger Series Omnibus Edition out, if you're so inclined, and thanks for the opportunity to explain why you might be.

The Hexslinger Omnibus
Hexslinger 1 -3
ChiZine Publications, December 17, 2013
eBook, 900 pages

Guest Blog by Gemma Files, author of the Hexslinger series - Putting the Weird in Weird Western - December 16, 2013
It’s 1867, and the Civil War is over. But the blood has just begun to flow. For asher Rook, Chess Pargeter, and Ed Morrow, the war has left its mark in tangled lines of association and cataclysmic love, woken hexslinger magic, and the terrible attentions of a dead god. “Reverend” asher Rook is the unwilling gateway for the Mayan goddess Ixchel to birth her pantheon back into the world of the living, and to do it she’ll force Rook to sacrifice his lover and fellow outlaw Chess Pargeter. But being dead won’t bar Chess from taking vengeance, and Pargeter will claw his way back out of Hell, teaming with undercover-Pinkerton- agent-turned-outlaw Ed Morrow to wreak it. What comes back into the world in the form of Chess Pargeter is a walking wound, Chess’s very presence tearing a crack in the world and reshaping everything around him while Ixchel establishes Hex City, a city state defying the very laws of nature—an act that will draw battle lines between a passel of dead gods and monsters, hexes galore, spiritualists, practitioners of black science, a coalition set against Ixchel led by allan Pinkerton himself, and everyone unfortunate enough to be caught between the colliding forces.

With the barriers between worlds crumbling, a new war being waged across the american West, and Ixchel preparing to kick off an apocalypse fed by shed human blood while Rook plots one, final, redemptive treachery of his own, everything will come down to Chess Pargeter, once again trapped in a nightmarish underworld. But Chess has fought his way out of hell before . . . .

Experience in one omnibus package the series Publishers Weekly called “a top-notch horror-fantasy saga” full of “potent mythology, complex characters, and dollops of creeping horror and baroque gore.”

The Hexslinger Novels
Guest Blog by Gemma Files, author of the Hexslinger series - Putting the Weird in Weird Western - December 16, 2013

About Gemma

Guest Blog by Gemma Files, author of the Hexslinger series - Putting the Weird in Weird Western - December 16, 2013
Former film critic and teacher turned award-winning horror author Gemma Files is probably best-known for her Hexslinger Series (A Book of Tongues, A Rope of Thorns and A Tree of Bones, all from ChiZine Publications). She has also published two collections of short fiction and two chapbooks of poetry. Recent work has appeared in Clockwork Phoenix 4, Chilling Tales 2, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Innsmouth Free Press. Her next book, also from CZP, will be We Will All Go Down Together: A Novel in Stories About the Five-Family Coven.

 Website  ~  Twitter @gemmafiles

Guest Blog by Helen Marshall - Borderline Transgressions: On Writing Sex and Death - November 20, 2012

Please welcome Helen Marshall to The Qwillery. Hair Side, Flesh Side, Helen's debut collection of short stories, is out this month from ChiZine Publications.

Borderline Transgressions: On Writing Sex and Death
By Helen Marshall

Imagine you're in a hotel room, an ocean away from home, with a man. Not just any man: he's charming, captivating, handsome, energetic, powerful. You know you shouldn't be there but you can't quite help it, there's something electric about being near him, your hair seems to stand on end like there's a current running through you. You touch. It's casual, maybe, or maybe it's not casual at all. Is anything casual with two people in a hotel room? When you know the rest of the party is going on downstairs?

And imagine he's touching you, and this time it is on purpose, you know it's on purpose, and he's peeling back the edge of the collar of your shirt, he's brushing your hair away from your neck, and it is electric, you can feel it all as if the moment is supercharged. Superheated.

And he stops.

You know something is wrong.

He's found something. A spot, maybe. A mole. Maybe. A lump. Something. And his hands are cold now. He's not saying anything. You ask him what's wrong, and he's so quiet. He's so quiet. Why is he so quiet?

And you're thinking, “Cancer.” You're thinking, “Just say something!”

And he does. But it's not at all what you could have expected…

So begins the story “Sanditon” from my debut collection of short stories, Hair Side, Flesh Side: in which a young woman, in the course of an affair, discovers a lost manuscript by none other than Jane Austen written on the inside of her skin. I'm something of an absurdist writer; a fantasist, I suppose. But what has struck me over recent months is how many people find that my writing ventures into the strange landscape of horror fiction.

Horror is a hard category to define. So many writers avoid the term absolutely because they feel it's a ghettoising label. They might not be wrong. Growing up, you couldn't have got me to crack the spine of a horror novel for love or money. I didn't like being scared. I didn't want to spend my time deliberately opening myself up to that. But the funny thing I find now is that the jolt I shied away from as a kid is exactly the kind of jolt that I find myself drawn to now. Because, as anthologist and critic Douglas Winter tells us, horror isn’t so much a genre as it is an emotion.

And because there's such a thin, thin line between sex and death.

A 2003 study published in the Annals of Neurology argued that there was a connection between the size of the amygdala, the centre of the brain which controls emotion and fear responses, and a person's sex drive. Writers have been saying that for years though. Yeats once claimed that sex and death should be the only compelling subjects to a studious mind. They are the bookends of our lives, determining behavior, the key prods of the lizard brain that seems so intent on backseat driving.

Take a look at the new subway ads put out by Penguin Canada to support their romance line, sporting slogans like “Our readers come first” and “Get off here” and “Pleasure yourshelf.”

What do you see in that facial expression? It’s terribly ambiguous. Is it surprise? Is it lust? Is this woman mid-orgasm? Or has she been caught mid-orgasm? Is that a look of shock that someone has found out her dirty secret? That someone is spying on her? That, suddenly, in the midst of reading something a bit sexy she peeks up over the top of her book to discover—what?—a camera?

How easy to mistake those wide eyes, those lifted eyebrows for some other emotion. Shock. Fear. And why not? Penguin’s campaign #50ShadesHotter sports titles like Gabriel’s Inferno and Gabriel’s Rapture. The title Reflected in You itself carries the tagline “The sweet, sharp edge of obsession…” Why? Because there’s something sexy about the line between fear and arousal, between sex and death. There’s something powerful. Something that takes readers out of their comfort zones.

In one light, romance novels are all about playing with the comfort zones of their readers. Opening up spaces for experimentation, for tiptoeing on the other side of the line while still keeping a protected space. There’s a reason that the woman in the Penguin ad is wearing a wedding ring. Penguin wants you to know that whatever is going on in this picture, it’s still a safe space, it’s just a bit of a fun, it doesn’t mean anything. The boundaries between the secret thrill of reading about someone else’s sexcapades and what happens in real life when you’ve got a flesh-and-blood partner never get stretched too far.

In Hair Side, Flesh Side I wanted to play with those boundaries: between sex and death, between horror and humour and romance, between insides and outsides—and I wanted to do it by using the body as a central metaphor. Because the body is the place where all these boundaries become confused and malleable. Where emotions slip into one another. Where the electric sense of your hair raising could be desire or fear—or both.

Where living in a character’s skin might mean the vicarious pleasure of a fictional one-night stand or the sudden discomfort of discovering something unwanted and strange: a mole, a lump, or the handwriting of a dead woman.

About Hair Side, Flesh Side

Hair Side, Flesh Side
ChiZine Publications. November 2012
Trade Paperback and eBook, 300 pages

A child receives the body of Saint Lucia of Syracuse for her seventh birthday. A rebelling angel rewrites the Book of Judgement to protect the woman he loves. A young woman discovers the lost manuscript of Jane Austen written on the inside of her skin. A 747 populated by a dying pantheon makes the extraordinary journey to the beginning of the universe. Lyrical and tender, quirky and cutting, Helen Marshall’s exceptional debut collection weaves the fantastic and the horrific alongside the touchingly human in fifteen modern parables about history, memory, and cost of creating art.

About Helen

Aurora-winning poet Helen Marshall is an author, editor, and self-proclaimed bibliophile.

In 2011, she published a collection of poetry with Kelp Queen Press called Skeleton Leaves ( that “[took] the children’s classic, [stripped] away the flesh, and [revealed] the dark heart of Peter Pan beating beneath.” The collection was jury-selected for the Preliminary Ballot of the Bram Stoker Award for excellence in Horror, nominated for a Rhysling Award for Science Fiction Poetry and won the Aurora Award for best Canadian speculative poem.

Her highly anticipated collection of short stories Hair Side, Flesh Side, out from ChiZine Publications, hits bookshelves this month. Visit the webpage for videos, artwork and sample stories.


Interview with Timothy S. Johnston Interview with David Demchuk, author of The Bone Mother2016 Debut Author Challenge Update - Shadows in Summerland by Adrian Van YoungInterview with Nick Cutter - June 24, 2015Interview with Simon Logan and Giveaway - March 17, 2014Interview with Susie Moloney, author of Things Withered - January 3, 2014You Could Win a NOOK from ChiZine Publications!Guest Blog by Gemma Files, author of the Hexslinger series - Putting the Weird in Weird Western - December 16, 2013Guest Blog by Helen Marshall - Borderline Transgressions: On Writing Sex and Death - November 20, 2012

Report "The Qwillery"

Are you sure you want to report this post for ?