Sometimes in life, we get exceptionally lucky and we get to do something really cool; we get the opportunity to speak with the author of a work of fiction that just touched our heart and made us think outside of the box. Pale Hunter is a lovely horror novella that digs a little deeper which, naturally, brings up a myriad of questions for the reader. C.J. Sellers was kind enough to take time and answer some questions for Lisa Fremont.
Was there any one experience or person that inspired you to become a writer?
I’m always amazed when someone can pin down the one thing. I can answer differently today than I would yesterday or tomorrow and, yet, all of the answers would ring true because I’ve been inspired to be a writer so many times. In the vaguest sense, I guess being a reader inspired me to write. I used to have a very hard time expressing myself in words, but I kept at it because there are stories to tell. Lately, the words have come together for me; late bloomer, I guess.
Is horror your preferred genre?
I prefer to write horror, but as a reader, it depends. I really just enjoy a good story and will read many genres. Perhaps that omnivore tendency comes into the way I write as well.
Is the witiko a real legend of is this from your imagination?
The Witiko is the Cree word for wendigo, which already has a place in both aboriginal Canadian lore and in horror fiction, most notably thanks to Algernon Blackwood’s famous story. I used the Cree word partly because of the Elk Lake Chipewyan’s close proximity to the Cree, but also to distance this creature from it’s horror predecessors. I wanted to take this wendigo in a more metaphorical direction and blend it via animism with Asian fox lore involving a many-tailed fox/trickster spirit creature. The connection to the fox was to draw out that symbolism of family being a conscious decision regarding loyalty.
How much research did you do for this novella?
I knew almost nothing about Canadian history, the pioneer era or indigenous culture when I started this project. It entailed a lot of reading and looking at photos and maps to get the details right and I hope that I did. In the story, I think that it all plays out seamlessly, fades into the background and only comes to the forefront when needed.
Where did the idea for this novella come from?
I first started to look at sexual exploitation and hierarchy in a novel that I published last year called Skein, where it was mostly encapsulated in a subterranean gang-rape scene. Afterward, I felt I had more to say on the topic, and now, could say so much more about how it led to Pale Hunter. Essentially, at many times, historically, society has subtly or sometimes directly told us that we’re allowed these predetermined boxes to live our lives in; if we don’t, then we are monsters or just don’t matter at all.
The idea of justice is often an inspiration for paranormal horror; in Pale Hunter, the victim is on both sides of the crime, so the manifestation is a larger sense of rage regarding predation and the violation of trust. It begins within the family, but ends with a much wider scope than our constructed obligations (i.e.) the nuclear family, alliance or nation. When we say “I only have to care about this being and not this one” there is an inherent evil in that choosing, which we gloss over with stories of romance, family, honor and tradition. In truth, someone is always left on the outside looking in.
When researching monsters, I came across the lore of the wendigo. This cannibalistic creature that claims the worst or most desperate among us struck me as an excellent way to talk about commerce and consumerism and it’s impact on the other; especially in the context of females being traded as property or as a means of creating alliances. Although we’ve changed some of our structures in this regard, we do still prey on one another. Family is supposed to be a place where we lovingly nurture the weakest of us and prepare them to stand on their own. We know that is not always the case. In the way that I wrote Clem’s life experiences, I wanted to illustrate the evolution of the character from a dependent to that of an autonomous, free thinking person and the repercussions that would come from that. The situation Clem finds himself in is a clash of expectations and idealisms in a circumstance where choices are forced upon him and the consequences are devastating for everyone involved.
I felt that the Clem character was a really great way to talk about how women and, perhaps by extension, the gay community is looked upon and treated. Am I reading too far into this by taking it this way?
You’re on track and thanks! I’ve thought a lot about how gender relates to power and how we each may or may not fit into the mold. We all know how women were treated back in the day, and some still are treated that way ; some women don’t mind or they use it to their advantage and that’s o.k. for them, so long as it’s fair. May they flourish. What is harmful is gender conformity being forced upon everyone, regardless of their unique disposition. It’s not healthy for the oppressed, nor for the oppressor. On the flip side, men also must often face the same sort of binary choice. The character called Five Tails experiences a bit of that. It’s not a new story; it’s how you tell it that is hopefully new and interesting.
Do you plan on writing anymore stories that delve into LGBTQ themes?
I do and I will. Two previous stories have positive LGBTQ characters. Everyone seems to like the aging lesbian Ante, from Skein. Given my personal background and experiences, it’s just natural for me to write about LGBTQ themes as well as philosophy, feminism, capitalism, racism and many other -isms. I don’t guarantee all of my stories are positive portrayals; my attitude is simply that the LGBTQ are people like anyone else. Some may be people that you’d like to know and some are not. Everyone is unique, but we’re all fundamentally similar.