Canadians don’t spook the same way Americans do

It’s always interesting to talk to writers about their craft, but it’s just as interesting to talk to editors — who are far less often interviewed about what goes into making a good book. So it was with great pleasure a few years ago that I talked to Nancy Kilpatrick and David Morrell, who put together the first horror anthology in the venerable Tesseracts series.
Not only is Tesseracts still going strong, but there were so many vampire-related submissions for Tesseracts Thirteen that Kilpatrick went on to edit a vampire-only anthology for the same publisher, EDGE, called Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead , which I also got to interview her about. I’ll post that piece at some point in the future.

Anthology features chilling tales from the Great White North

by David Jón Fuller

What is the most frightening thing you can think of?

That question is answered many ways in Tesseracts Thirteen: Chilling Tales from the Great White North, an anthology of short works of Canadian horror writing, edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and David Morrell.

Each editor has a unique perspective on how Canada’s literature of the macabre has developed. Kilpatrick, originally from the United States, began writing in the genre after moving to Canada in 1970.

Morrell grew up in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, and studied American literature at Penn State University in the late ’60s, which he has taught in the U.S. ever since.

Both are horror and thriller novelists in their own right. Kilpatrick is the author of the Power of the Blood vampire series and Morrell is perhaps best known for writing First Blood, in which action-hero Rambo first appeared.

“Up until about 15 years ago, there wasn’t a lot of Canadian horror writing,” says Kilpatrick. “But there is much more of a literary tradition here in the genre writing than in the States.”

Both she and Morrell were impressed by the high calibre of the submissions they received. Moreover, few if any of the stories were flag-waving “Canadian content.”

“I noticed that even though this was a Canadian horror anthology and you had to be Canadian to get in, only about a third of the stories had traditional Canadian horror themes,” says Morrell. “What that suggests to me is that folks are transcending traditional locales.”

Kilpatrick agrees. ”I don’t know if there’s one that is specifically set in Canada,” she says. “These writers aren’t focused on Canada; they’re focused on a type of writing: dark fantasy.”

The scary stories of the Great White North are less punctuated by shock and gore, she says, than “murky, uncertain” endings.

“Americans don’t like that at all!” she says with a laugh.

But that approach to storytelling, she says, “leads people to think a bit more about the story after the ending.”

Among the tales in the volume are a macabre telling of how the children abducted by the Pied Piper exact their revenge; a post-apocalyptic tale of a generation of children turned into unthinking savages by disease; and a plot by a sister to free herself of her grifting brother with the help of a scorpion.

One story illuminates the shattered life of a girl abused by her father and the escape provided by a secret closet where her mother goes to cry.

And both Morrell and Kilpatrick have high praise for that story, Suzanne Church’s “The Tear Closet.” It’s a good example of how the collection eschews standard dark fantasy and horror tropes but still conjures a “sense of the eerie,” as Morrell puts it.

“Genres are about emotions,” Morrell says, “and the emotions a story evokes determine the genre it’s in.”

Kilpatrick adds, “The tone we had going didn’t lend itself to typical supernatural stories.”

Tesseracts Thirteen: Chilling Tales from the Great White North

David Jón Fuller is a Winnipeg writer and editor.

Originally published in Prairie Books Now, Fall/Winter 2009.

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