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  • Olivia Van Guinn

An Interview with Amy LeBlanc

On dread, gothic horror, and Shirley Jackson


Amy LeBlanc’s Homebodies is now available from Enfield and Wizenty (an imprint of Great Plains Publications) on bookstore shelves and online. LeBlanc’s other published works include: I know something you don’t know from Gordon Hill Press and Unlocking from University of Calgary Press.

 

It is an appropriately quiet and overcast day when I sit down with Amy LeBlanc to discuss her newest publication, Homebodies, a uniquely sharp collection of short stories that promises to provoke "dread, abjection, and horror." I had spent most of the night before preparing for the interview by rereading the collection, filling my head with LeBlanc’s gothic stories of a near-miss with a murderer, the planet being overridden by Cerulean Fever, and more.

We sit down on the cafe patio and begin:

“Cats or dogs?” I ask.
“Cats,” says LeBlanc, decisively.

On the sense of dread permeating the pages of Homebodies, unique from the horror popularised by slashers and Stephen King novels on the basis of remaining small in scale, eerie in tone, and quiet in nature:

“I think the core of dread is uncanny experience,” says LeBlanc. “Disorientation, or the experience of something familiar made no longer familiar. For example, I always have this anxiety going back to my apartment that everything will be in a different place from where I left it–just slightly off. So I really try to tap into that fear of things just slightly shifting.” The tactic LeBlanc describes here is well employed in stories such as “Bruised Plums” and “Garden Bed”, both of which also utilise the domestic. “I wanted to have that feeling of apprehension without leaning into blood and gore and those traditional markers of horror,” says LeBlanc.

She elaborates on what particular facets of the domestic uncanny manifest in her stories, and reveals her interest in the manners in which the uncanny can be shaped by gender:

“The home can be a site of horror depending on who you are and how you occupy that space. Uncanny can be the recognition that you have these relationships that are not supposed to be oppressive and violent. Violence that occurs in the home–whether supernatural or down-to-earth experiences of small violences–all falls under the uncanny.”


“What’s your go-to brunch order?” I ask.
“Eggs benedict,” says LeBlanc–adding, “with extra hollandaise.”

Perhaps a sub-classification–or possibly another interpretation–of the domestic uncanny is what LeBlanc names the suburban gothic, which she employs in stories like “The Fridge Light”. Here, LeBlanc describes utilising elements of the gothic while “moving away from gothic castles.”

“I love it when authors take the same feelings of dread and put them into modern suburb settings. Haunting doesn’t have to be in a place that’s old–a brand new building can be occupied. Any place or person can be haunted. It just depends on who’s in them.”

Based on the themes LeBlanc describes, elements of Shirley Jackson may be percolating in your head. If you have yet to pick up your copy of Homebodies, then you may not know that the first of two epigraphs pays tribute to Shirley Jackson. “Jackson is my favourite author of all time,” says LeBlanc. “There’s a little bit of Jackson in every story. Her novel Hangsaman (from which the epigraph originates) is one of my favourites.”

On her choice of the particular epigraph:

“I wanted to make it really clear that I was working with Jackson, and this verse pulls in folklore and a childlike, nursery rhyme element. I wanted to set the tone from the beginning that there’s room for playfulness in horror, and that rhyming and taunting can be deeply unsettling. As a kid, you don’t have that recognition. But as an adult, it’s really interesting to see how that can manifest.”


I ask, “What’s your favourite joke?”
LeBlanc answers, “What’s the difference between an old greyhound bus terminal and a large-breasted lobster? One’s a crusty bus station, and the other’s a busty crustacean.”

“How much of yourself and your daily life do you see in your writing?” I ask. “Are these very integrated realms for you or are they very separated?”

LeBlanc answers, “They’re both… but in different ways. There are times when I see a lot of myself in my writing–it started to happen more during early COVID when I was working on my master’s. The middle section in Homebodies is a couple stories from then. Working in isolation meant a lot of time at home, so the stories have a much bigger focus on myself. Other stories are less about myself when I’m pushing to understand something I haven’t experienced. Those are the more speculative pieces. But even if those stories aren’t influenced by my daily life, I can’t help but have those stories filter through my experience–even if I could help it, I don’t know if I would want to because I love those connections.”

And on great writing–on what separates good from great writing–which LeBlanc considers for herself and for other works that she takes inspiration from:

“What separates good writing from great writing is character work that makes it so I feel a character come to life, even if I don’t like them. That sense of humanness, and that strong sense of motivation really only happens when your characters pop off the page.”

 

Amy LeBlanc is a PhD student in English and creative writing at the University of Calgary. Amy’s debut poetry collection, I know something you don’t know (Gordon Hill Press, 2020) was long listed for the 2021 ReLit Award and selected as a finalist for the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry. Her novella, Unlocking (University of Calgary Press, 2021) was a finalist for the Trade Fiction Book of the Year through the Book Publishers Association of Alberta. Amy’s most recent book, Homebodies (Great Plains Publications, 2023), is a collection of interconnected Gothic short stories. Her next poetry collection, I used to live here, is forthcoming with Gordon Hill Press in 2025. Amy’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Fiddlehead, Room, Arc, Canadian Literature, and the Literary Review of Canada among others. Amy is a recipient of the 2020 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Emerging Artist Award and a CGS-D Award for her doctoral research into fictional representations of chronic illness and gothic spaces. Amy is a 2022 Killam Laureate and a recipient of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Medal.


Olivia Van Guinn is a Vietnamese-Canadian writer from Northeast Calgary. They study English and Psychology at the University of Calgary and are a contributing editor for Fillingstation Magazine. They are a Saggitarius Sun, Cancer Moon, and Cancer Rising. This information is important but very rarely surprising.




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