Embodied spaces and the painfully human: An interview with Michael Matheson
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Today's update is from our LAST (but certainly not least!) Preview Issue contributor, Michael Matheson. You can read their piece "Change as seen through an orrery of celestial fire", which was originally published in Superhero Universe: Tesseracts Nineteen, in the Augur Preview Issue!
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How and why did you decide Augur was the right fit for your work? Was there anything about the Preview Issue or our mission that you particularly attached to?
What first drew me to Augur was a combination of elements. Partly it’s knowing (and trusting) some of the people involved. But much moreso it was the mission statement’s focus on liminality and intersectionality in regard to content, authorship, and overall aesthetic that had me subbing to the Preview Issue. I tend to pick where I submit my work based on aesthetic and intent (because while pay rate matters to me if I don’t like the mag or the people running it then I’m not going to sub there), and I liked very much what Augur was looking to do in that regard.
Tell us a little bit about what inspires you, what drives you, and what you’re most interested in exploring in your work—recently, or over the course of your career.
Though the kind of stories I’m telling and my overall focus has shifted over the years (because my work has changed along with me), there are consistent strains or elements that I think define my work. Frequently I come back to how the weight of family (blood or chosen) affects, moulds, and shapes us. But I also tend to focus on (because I’m fascinated by) intergenerational interactions and politics, racial and cultural expectations and realities (again, often with regard to interaction), ghosts (literal and metaphoric), and transformation and transmutation. I don’t always cover all of those elements in a single piece, but they do tend to all interweave rather well.
Toronto's geography and history play an integral role in your story. What is it about Toronto specifically that you wanted to explore through fiction, and what role do you feel the landscape played as a character in your piece?
The last part of this question seems humorously apt to me because I’ve been edging more and more toward physical space as embodied character or entity in fiction over the years. Especially so in a series of stories I’ve been working on recently (and getting published haphazardly) called Titan and Serpent. That series takes what I’ve been doing in my various Toronto-set stories like “Change as Seen Through an Orrery of Celestial Fire” – looking at how (in usually multicultural context) we interact with and embody our cities and how they embody us – and literalizes that exploration.
But I’ve spent the bulk of my career in short fiction to date writing about Toronto so frequently (even when I’m not naming it directly) so I can explore how we change it and how it changes us. I was born here and have lived most of my life here thus far, so the city’s definitely home for me, but it’s also a place I constantly discover new facets of – be that the city’s history, the hidden geographies it holds both above and below ground, or the way in the downtown core every five minutes you walk takes you into an entirely different city within the city drawn along loose cultural and ethnic lines. Toronto’s labyrinthine in all the best literal and less visceral ways – it’s a constantly shifting entity constructed from such conflicting, diffuse components. It’s extraordinary watching it tear itself apart and rebuild, erasing, rediscovering, and rewriting its own history in constant sweep.
Reflective of that constant reshaping of itself, I also technically have a history of destroying Toronto in my fiction as a worldbuilding device. But, you know, lovingly.
Was it always clear to you who the villains were in this story? Can you talk a bit about the delegation of "villain" roles vs. "hero" roles among your characters?
Despite working with superhero and supervillain nomenclature, I don’t know that I’d say the story has villains, in that the story doesn’t really engage the classical use of an antagonist(s) which you need to make that dichotomy work. The characters in the story are all, though occasionally struggling against each other, much moreso invested in internal struggle. They’re all trying to find (or acquire if they already know) what they want out of their lives and ways to move forward, however that proves ideal, or at least feasible, for each of them.
The story ended up functioning that way because I’m always fascinated by narratives where villainy and heroism are mutable concepts, and where they inform the story but aren’t the core of it. And I love taking apart the idea that engaging in criminal activity defines the whole of who one is, because we know that’s not the case: there’s always a story behind that. Sometimes that story is terrifying and psychotic and we wish we’d never looked behind the veil (not surprisingly, I’m really not a fan of most serial killer narratives). But so often the story behind what’s going on, even if it’s brutal and awful in its intensity or its actions, is so painfully human. There are some wonderful explorations of that idea that I’ve seen done, but the one that comes immediately to mind is Sarah Gailey’s “City of Villains: Why I Don’t Trust Batman,” from earlier this year. And that one stands so strong in mind for me because the humanizing worm’s eye view Gailey uses provides this exquisite context for the things we’re so ready to see in black and white when there’s so much grey in the picture.
What do you hope to see from Augur Magazine in the future?
Given the excellence of the other works in the Preview Issue I’m very much looking forward to seeing where Augur goes from here. That’s a varied body of work in the initial issue, and that always signals good things from an emerging magazine. I say this both as an editor and as a reader always keen to see how a new publication positions itself. You can tell out of the gate if a magazine or an anthology series is going to live up to its mission statement. We can talk all we like about giving a new mag or an anthology series an issue/book or two to find its footing, but if the editors haven’t put the work in to make that first issue/book reflect their mission statement and acquire the best possible work to reflect that, it’s not going to magically fix as that project goes on.
With Augur I like what I’ve seen so far. More please.
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If you want us to publish even more stories like Michael's, you can help us put our best foot forward when we launch by sharing or pledging! AND this is the last chance to grab a subscription—let alone our fabulous rewards—until 2018!
Until next time,
The Augur Team