Monday, December 31, 2012

Imaginarium Author Profile: Helen Marshall

CZP asked Imaginarium authors a few questions. See how they handle being on the spot, and how they handle The Hulk invading their stories! Between now and January 4th, 2013, CZP is running this special feature, and today’s author is Helen Marshall, who appeared in Imaginarium 2012: The Best of Canadian Speculative Fiction with the poems “One Quarter Gorgon” and “Beautiful Monster”.

When did you start writing creatively, and what was the first piece you remember working on?

I remember sitting in the garden when I was about five, trying to write a sonnet about flowers. I don’t recall much from that particular poem, except that one of the rhyming words was "flair" (which I believe might have rhymed with "air"?). I would like to say this startling piece of childhood genius was published in The New Yorker. Alas, it was not. I believe it made it onto the fridge though.

What is the best advice you have ever been given from a publisher/fellow author/opinionated reader? 

“Write your weird.” That's it. That’s the piece of advice that has stuck in my mind most over the last six months: whatever obsessions, kinks, and strangenesses you’ve been storing away, the things that you ought to never bring up at the dinner table, those are the things that people want to read. That’s the authentic you. That’s the thing that only you can write.

What is it about speculative fiction that appeals to you, as a reader and/or an author?

 I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently: what I love in speculative fiction is the possibility of surprise. I get bored very easily, and I read enough that I can often map out a story from it’s premise. I love the moments when you’re following a plot and there’s that beautiful left turn that seems to come out of nowhere, but that also seems so entirely natural. I love not knowing. I love the mystery of it, the way in which the playing field is opened up. I love seeing strangeness turned human, and humanity turned strange. 

What do you do when you’re not writing? 

When I’m not writing, I spend my time studying medieval manuscripts in order to finish off my Ph.D in medieval studies, not the beautiful illuminated, gold-leaf ones but the scrappy bits of parchment that most people ignore: measuring punctuation marks, comparing fourteenth-century handwriting, studying dialect change. That either sounds incredibly banal or incredibly exciting, and, honestly, it’s a little bit of both. But I love books — old and new — and my obsession with them has been a huge part of my writing. There’s something glorious about the idea that a guy with quill and ink and a bit of paper could make something that would last six hundred years. There’s a sense of perspective it gives you. History is the great leveler and we never know what’s going to make it through. What’s going to matter. But we do it anyway. I like that.

Is there a book that you think would change the world (for better or worse) if every person was to read it?

I think every book that we read with an open mind changes us: when I was in England two years ago, my sister gave me a copy of Scarlett Thomas' Popco, which, nestled amidst an excellent discussion of code-breaking, number puzzles and family secrets, argues persuasively in favour of vegetarianism. It argued so persuasively that it worked for about two months: after which I came home, and my sister declared that she wouldn’t cook for me if I didn’t eat bacon. Well. I confess I was weak. But what was interesting about the whole experience was my own resistance to the book. I didn’t want to change. Change is scary. Even change in favour of a good that is well-articulated. But that being said, I’m the sum of all the books I’ve ever read. Books shape the discussion. They give us something to react against, and they can speak for a helluva long time. 

The Hulk is now a character in your Imaginarium poem “One Quarter Gorgon”: how would it change?

     When we make love, it is in darkness 
     or in the aftermath of an experimental detonation of a gamma bomb.

But I’m not sure I can honestly say that it makes better poetry: but, hey, I think you’re more likely to find me writing The Love Song of Robert Downey, Jr:

LET us fly then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like Loki laid out by the avenging fists of Thor;

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

Her poetry and fiction have been published in ChiZinePaper Crow, Abyss & Apex and the long-running Tesseracts anthology series among others. She released a collection of poems entitled Skeleton Leaves from Kelp Queen Press in 2011 and her collection of short stories Hair Side, Flesh Side was released from ChiZine Publications in 2012.

Currently, she is pursuing a Ph. D in medieval studies at the University of Toronto, for which she spends a great deal of her time staring at fourteenth-century manuscripts. Unwisely. When you look into a book, who knows what might be looking back.

Can’t find Imaginarium 2012 in your book store? Order it directly from CZP

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