November, 2011 / Author:

Michael Rowe mines the darkness within

After 30 years away, journalist Michael Rowe will be returning to the Prairies to present his first novel – Enter, Night. Rowe, who has been all over the world for his journalism career, spent four years at St. John’s in Selkirk and considers the Prairies one of the most influential places he’s ever stayed. “It taught me a real appreciation for the beauty of nature,” Rowe says. “I’m really looking forward to coming home.”

Rowe has spent his career working mostly in the realm of non-fiction. He’s written for the Advocate, the National Post, Huffington Post, released two essay collections and penned the critically-acclaimed book Writing Below the Belt, a study of censorship, erotica and popular culture. He’s also edited the Queer Fear gay horror collections and been called groundbreaking for his contributions to the genre. Rowe has been credited for changing the shape of horror by having queer characters whose sexuality is simply a part of a narrative, as opposed to being used as for shock value or a plot device. Despite his successes two years ago when Rowe was diagnosed with a heart condition, it caused him to re-assess what he wanted from life.

Michael Rowe ?“I’ve done a lot of work in queer journalism in the U.S. and Canada. I wanted to write something fun”
“I’ve done a lot of work in queer journalism in the U.S. and Canada. I wanted to write something fun. I guess it had been gestating for a while. I decided to take some time off to do this,” Rowe says. “It’s a whole different kind of writing. I wondered why there wasn’t a more solid body of work in Canadian horror literature. Amidst the twinkling and sparkling, there’s a rich body of a myth and literature to work with.”

Enter, Night is about old-school vampires. It’s the story of returning to the remote northern Ontario town of Parr’s Landing and the 300-year-old darkness that’s been waiting there. It’s a town of secrets, built on the site of a 17th-century Jesuit mission to the Ojibway. It’s a horror story that returns us to a time before cell phones and the Internet to the wildness of Canada, where the sleeping horror is calling out and a man, committed to the resurrection of the ages-old evil brings the town and its people into darkness.

“Horror does not exist in isolation. You have to experience the loss of hope. The vampires of the book are literally vampires, but in a way they can be seen as a metaphor for homophobia and exploitation of the land. One of the heroes is a native professor of anthropology. Part of his story involves the residential school system, overcoming that, and going back to the small town who considers him the same as before.”

Even if Enter, Night is meant more for enjoyment than some of his more serious work, Rowe’s ability to cause us to reflect thoughtfully on the world around us carries through. The vampires in the novel can also be a metaphor for the interpersonal dynamics between people, something which Rowe, from his work in social issues and being very heavily involved in the lives of his friends and family, deeply understands.

“Queer issues are becoming part of our cultural landscape. I envy the younger generation. It’s exciting they will grow up in a different culture. Manitoba in the ‘70s was not a good place to be gay. I did a lot of research on aversion therapy. People commented on how scary it was in the context of the story, but it was a very real practice. Take 1969 and compare it to where we are today – it’s astounding.”

Rowe says he feels the shock value and groundbreaking elements of writing queer stories will lessen for younger writers “The marketing of queer literature is a marketing ploy. If a book is marketed under fiction, it’s considered fiction. If it’s marketed as a GLBT story, the same story is considered a niche novel,” he says.

 “Being accepted and celebrated for being well written is the goal at the end of the day. In Enter, Night, one of the characters is openly gay and another is a closet case. Interactions between them is an example of one guy that got away from the town and became fulfilled as a gay man and one who didn’t and became a parody of this macho, straight cop. Queer stuff is seen as niche stuff. You have these straight women writing gay male romances and it seems tinny. Bless them, everyone has to make a living but it strikes me as counter art. The trick is just having it be a part of the story. It can’t be artificial, it just has to flow. If you’re going to be a writer who is queer (or a queer writer, which is a whole other topic) you have to square your shoulders and stand in the doorway and say these are my stories. 

“As writers, all we can do is put our stories out there as we see them and hope the world hears what we’re saying. Editors and publishers take their cues from authors. If an author is shy or bashful about it, they can tell. My experience has been that we shape the way our own writing is read. To borrow from the aids activists of old – I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it. You have to say this is part of the package. It’s not up to me to help you accept it.”

Michael Rowe will launch Enter, Night at McNally Robinson Booksellers on November 10 at 7 p.m. in the travel alcove.

– Katrina Caudle is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer.

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