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An Interview with Hayden Trenholm

by Chadwick Ginther - Sunday, Oct 18, 2009 at 1:29pm

Hayden Trenholm is the Aurora Award winning author of two novels and numerous short stories and plays. he is also a familiar face at KeyCon, Winnipeg's science fiction and fantasy convention. Hayden was kind enough to answer some questions about his writing and his latest novel, Steel Whispers.

CG: Why Calgary? What made that city the perfect home for Frank Steele and the SDU?

HT: I lived in Calgary for over ten years so I knew it pretty well physically. A number of the locales -- such as the Garry Theatre and Kaos Jazz bar were places I actually worked in when I was living as an artist. That made writing about it quite easy in the write what you know sense. But Calgary also has this wild west quality -- as much imagined as real -- and an admiration for corporations and right wing politics that made it perfect as a place that would somehow survive and even, for some at least, thrive in a world gone to hell. They say Calgary has more churches per capita than any city in Canada, but it also has more liquor stores and porn shops. Projecting that sense of anarchy and entitled class inequality -- combined with the really fundamental goodness of many of the people who live there -- into the future seemed natural.

CG: You make use of the first person point of view for the character of Frank Steele, the quintessential hardboiled detective, but the remainder of your characters are presented in the third person. Why did you decide to alternate back and forth in this manner?

HT: There were several reasons to do this. First, Frank to work as a noir character had to be in the first person but the story I was writing was bigger than he could encompass by himself. Second, thematically Defining Diana was about the self, Steel Whispers about the family so using multiple points of view allowed me to explore how slippery both those concepts are. A first person narrator is always assumed to be reliable -- and Frank is reliable as far as that goes. But he is also biased and sees the world through a very particular lens. By contrasting his views and values with those of other characters I got to show that all narrative -- especially our narrative about our selves and our families -- is essentially suspect. Third, people kept telling me it couldn't be done. i can be a little stubborn that way.

CG: The Singularity, the analogy between the breakdown of modern physics near a gravitational singularity and the drastic change in society thought would occur following an intelligence explosion has been a trope of recent science fiction since it was popularized by Vernor Vinge in 1993. You name one of your corporations -- a company that has seemingly done the impossible-- for it in Steel Whispers. Do you worry that technology will advance beyond our ability to understand it? Is it something you considered in building your world of 2044?

HT: There are huge pieces of technology that most people don't understand NOW and yet most people muddle along quite well. Take an MRI or any number of other scanning devices. We happily slide into them and let the technicians take their pictures but have no idea what the images actually show. Even the technicians aren't always sure. Consider for a moment a peasant in rural Nepal or central Africe who has never used a telephone let alone a computer. Hasn't the Singularity already happened for them? Or how about the 15% of Americans who don't know that telephones run on electricity? I generally take the view that we, as individuals, learn exactly as much technology as we need to fulfill our desires. My 84-year old mother-in-law uses e-mail and Excel and is on Facebook because it keeps her from being isolated. My boss refuses to learn how to retrieve his cell phone messages because he sees his cell as being for his convenience not that of those who want to call him. Oddly enough, despite the dystopic nature of my novels, I'm generally an optimist -- up to a point. The future will be better than the past but the benefits of that future may not benefit everyone equally -- unless we make it so.

CG: You name drop Rob Sawyer -- even having Frank Steele reading one of his novels. Sawyer is known in fandom circles not only for his passion for good science fiction but also for his mentorship of other writers. What has Rob meant to your career?

HT: First and foremost, Rob is a great friend. It's true that he has been very supportive of me and a lot of other writers but he's also been a friend to many of us in the truest sense of the word -- someone whose company you value for its own sake rather than for the help it might be to you. But Rob deserves all the credit and accolades he gets -- both for his work and for his mentoring and supporting other writers. And I will say I've learned almost everything I know about being a 'professional writer' in all senses of the term.

CG: You are a winner of Anvil Press' 3 Day novel contest. What kind of madness does it take to attempt this, let alone to win?

HT: That was the first long piece of fiction I ever wrote so maybe it requires an absolute lack of knowledge about how impossible a task it is. I wrote A Circle of Birds in 1992, just after i moved to Calgary to become a writer. I had a couple of plays under my belt and a few short stories -- none of them really good. I decided to try the contest as a way of kick starting my learning process. I was running a lot those days and actually composed the story during long runs along the Bow River. Big chunks of the story are sort of magic realist interptretations of episodes in my own and my father's life -- plus a big dollop of sex and violence that came out of whereever those things come. So, when I sat down to write it -- with nothing more than a two page outline in front of me -- the first 10000 words came pretty easy. After that I kept writing until I was finished the chapters I had outlined. I guess it worked.

CG: Do you have a favourite fictional detective?

HT: Lots. I'm a big Sherlock Holmes fan (I have a Holmes story in the new Gaslight Grotesque collection coming out from Edge this fall) but I'm also fond of Poirot and Nick Charles from The Thin Man -- though I'm not sure if I like the light hearted film version or the darker literary version better. And lets not forget Phillip Marlowe and Joe Leaphorn.

CG: If you could have any piece of tech from one of your novels, what would it be?

HT: One of the cars owned by the Singh Wannamaker Detective Agency.

CG: You won the Aurora for your short story Like Water in the Desert, and Defining Diana was shortlisted for the award as well. How important is it in your mind to celebrate Canadian science fiction and fantasy? What do you think would mean more to you, the Aurora, chosen largely by fans, or the Sunburst, which is a juried prize chosen by your peers?

HT: Can't I have both? Juried awards have more prestige but it still comes down to the opinion of the people on the jury -- a voting block of five. Fans have a special place in SF and F -- unlike any other genre -- so I think getting an award from them does mean a bit more to me. But I'd still like both.

CG: You have one more novel planned in The Steele Chronicles, after that, what's next?

HT: As I answer these questions I'm about 15000 words in Stealing Home, so it is hard to think about the next thing. However, I just finished the first draft of a young adult SF novel so I'll probably go back to that once Stealing Home is done. Then I have this big environmental collapse and recovery book I've been making notes on -- something set about two hundred years in the future.

Categories: Interview, SciFi & Fantasy, Mystery & Crime

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See:

The Steele Chronicles Volume 1

- Trade paperback

by Hayden Trenholm - $19.95 - Add to Cart

Canadian author/playwright Hayden Trenholm brings us a Science Fiction novel with elements of mystery and noir.