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Interview: Gemma Files on Her GENIUS LOCI Story “Twilight State”


Genius Loci is a new anthology edited by Jaym Gates that is due out in September. It’s currently on Kickstarter, and features stories by authors like Seanan McGuire, Ken Liu,  and more. In a special series of interviews, I asked the authors a few questions about themselves and their stories.

About Genius Loci (via Jaym Gates):

The concept of ‘genius loci‘ is indeed an ancient one, found in nearly every human mythology. Guardian spirits. Divine presences. Demonic powers. Ghosts. In GENIUS LOCI, the emphasis is on the locale as much as it is on the spirit inhabiting it.

We have a huge anthology of 31 all-new fantasy and science fiction stories drawing on the rich tradition of place-as-person. Within the pages of GENIUS LOCI, the authors present stories of sentient deserts, beneficent forests, lonely shrubs, and protective planetary spirits.

Today, I talked to Gemma Files about her story “Twilight State”

Previously best-known as a film critic for Toronto’s eye Weekly, teacher and screenwriter, Gemma Files first broke onto the international horror scene when her story “The Emperor’s Old Bones” won the 1999 International Horror Guild award for Best Short Fiction. She is the author of two collections of short work (Kissing Carrion and The Worm in Every Heart) and two chapbooks of poetry (Bent Under Night and Dust Radio). Her Hexslinger Series trilogy is now complete: A Book of Tongues, A Rope of Thorns and A Tree of Bones, all available from ChiZine Publications. Her newest book is We Will All Go Down Together, also from ChiZine.

Kristin Centorcelli: Will you tell us a bit about your story in Genius Loci and what inspired you to write it?

Gemma Files: I came across mention of a contradictory, literally liminal mythological Slavic creature called the mrak while researching something else, and knew that I wanted to write about it, but had no idea when or for what. Genius Loci provided the perfect venue, as well as an excuse to once more use what’s become one of my favourite locations—my own half-memories of family vacations up in cottage country, near Gravenhurst, Ontario. It was a nice carry-over from writing the final novella in my last collection, We Will All Go Down Together: Stories of the Five-Family Coven (CZP), which takes place around the same area.

KC: What do you like to see in a good story, and what authors or novels have influenced you the most in your work, and your life?

GF: I’m very much in love with a particular sense of stumbling across something uncanny, alien, inexplicable hiding inside the fabric of what we (mostly) agree is reality, a quality I only recently came to understand falls under the heading of “the numinous.” Peter Straub has this in spades, as does Caitlin R. Kiernan, Elizabeth Hand, Michael Rowe, Laird Barron, Daniel Mills, Richard Gavin, Helen Marshall, Nadia Bulkin…so many people whose work I admire, and struggle to pattern mine after. Thinking back, however, I’d have to say that some of my most formative influences come from Kathe Koja (Skin), Michael MacDowell (The Elementals) and Tanith Lee (Tales from the Flat Earth).

KC: What would you say is the biggest challenge when writing short fiction?

GF: Like I used to tell my students when I was still teaching, a shorter length means you essentially have to choose to concentrate either on plot/action to the exclusion of character/mood or character/mood to the exclusion of plot/action. The great part is that it’s far easier to be structurally experimental in a short-term framework than it is when writing something novel-length, because no matter how arcane a delivery system you choose to stuff your content inside, your readers only have to deal with it for a certain amount of time. That can be really creatively freeing, so long as you go in with a strategy and all your main emotional beats already in place.

KC: What do you enjoy most about reading, and writing, SFF?

GF: What’s not to love? As long as you stay emotionally logical and consistent, you can essentially do anything. Even if magic’s not involved directly, it’s still magic.

KC: What’s next for you?

GF: I’m just finishing up my first stand-alone horror novel, Experimental Film, which will be out from ChiZine Publications by the end of 2015. It’s a shamelessly self-biographical cinematic ghost story rooted in the secret history of the Canadian film industry.

About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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