Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Geographical Location - Selene MacLeod - Biggest 'Ah-Ha!' Moments in Writing

     Character, plot, setting, atmosphere, these are all extremely important in creating the right mood to scare the pants off a reader. One way to accomplish this is by paying close attention to a story's geographical setting. Some horror subgenres--the Southern Gothic, for instance--are easily defined by their conventions. But did you know there's something called Southern Ontario Gothic? Neither did I, although once I read about it, I realized that it formed a framework for something I do as a writer--that is, I follow the "write what you know" guideline. 

     Unlike more "worldly" writers, I've never been anywhere farther than a couple of hours' drive from home. My stories are frequently set in the town where I grew up. Sarnia, Ontario is a working-class industrial town on the US (Michigan) border, and it has a culture, politics, and class structure that identify it very much as a character. It's got a beautiful landscape, on the edge of the St. Clair River and the southern tip of Lake Huron. Amateur hockey, bingo, and alcohol are pastimes. Too much education, or too far outside the "norm" (whether you're gay, fat, non-white, etc.) and you're regarded with suspicion. Unemployment is high and lots of people rely on the government for a monthly cheque, yet all the class politics that go with handouts are in play. In other words, it mirrors many small towns, and I hope this makes the place relatable to a reader. 

     The thing that makes Sarnia unique is its Chemical Valley, a steel mini-city that looks like a Giger fantasy, all vats and steel rigging and flaming towers that spew toxic chemicals. The sky at night is orange, and the last time I saw stars, I was a pre-teen. 

     My story "Home" (published by SNM Horror as "Born in a Dead World") is about an Indigenous woman suffering a miscarriage. She comes home to find her grandmother watching Stephen Harper's "apology" to the victims of the Indian Residential School program (Look it up on YouTube. Then watch the footage from survivors. I dare you not to cry). As they watch, her grandmother begins to tell her about the real horrors she and others endured at the schools. 

     Having grown up in Sarnia, in the shadow of the Chemical Valley and the threat of long-term health problems caused by pollution, I found that the town offered a strong backdrop for a horror story. The rate of two girls born for every boy and the high number of miscarriages among women on the Reserve is staggering. The juxtaposition of the Residential school system against the murder of people by the very air they breathe and water they drink created a strong emotional echo in me. As a Canadian with Metis heritage, I reacted with deep shame and impotent rage. And, of course, fear.

Bio: Selene is new enough to horror writing to still consider herself a hobbyist (that is, she thinks she can jump off the merry-go-round when she wants). Her work has appeared in anthologies from SNM Horror, Seven Archons Press, Static Movement, May-December Publications, and the upcoming Carnival anthology from NetBound Publishing.

You can read a story of her's here, or you can check her Facebook. You can read "Endymion" here. Lastly, you can find her blog here.

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