Maybe you're the person who can hardly wait until Halloween has passed before pulling out the winter holiday decorations — the person who is first in line for the first tree that's been chopped down, who can't keep themselves from adding mistletoe to every corner and enough lights to overwhelm a circuit breaker.
But maybe not — maybe, like Sandra Kasturi (and co-editor with Craig Wolf), you're a bit fatigued on the sparkle and magic of "the season" (not to mention the eggnog-flavoured everything) before it even starts. In War on Christmas: An Anthology of Tinseled Mayhem (ChiZine Publications), a multi-author short story collection curated by Kasturi and Wolf, contributors including Neil Gaiman, Peter Darbyshire, David Demchuk, and many more take aim at the "most wonderful time of the year" with hilarious and thoughtful results.
Featuring an introduction by Jack M. Haringa, it's the perfect collection for anyone who cringes when the first (and sometimes, seemingly endless) strains of "Winter Wonderland" spill out of the loudspeakers.
As part of our Lucky Seven interview series, we got to talk to Sandra, who is also the Publisher of ChiZine Publications, about putting War on Christmas together. She tells us about opening up submissions to a rule of "the weirder, the better" (and the fabulous results thereof), her hope that the book will give "people a much-needed laugh in dark times", and how she really feels about Love, Actually.
Tell us about the new book and how you became involved with it.
Our new anthology, War on Christmas (ChiZine Publications) started, as so often things do, with an impromptu and silly conversation on Facebook, making fun of the holidays and riffing on the "war on Christmas"— a ridiculous phrase trotted out pretty much every year, by people who are offended by the notion that there are non-Christians in the world who maybe don't celebrate Christmas. And that wishing the non-Christians a "happy holiday" is the very least—seriously, the very least—that people could do, if they don’t want to go to the great effort of asking what people of other religions do celebrate. Craig Wolf jokingly said "Hey, this should be an anthology." And I said, "Done. Do you want to co-edit?" And that’s how people get press-ganged into working with ChiZine! We got a hugely enthusiastic response on social media and a lot of submissions for the book.
How did you select the pieces for this book? What were you looking for when assembling it?
We wanted to see just how nuts people could get—no holds barred. The weirder, the better. We ended up with stories, poems, songs, artwork—each one more peculiar than the last! Some stories I’d actually heard or read before, and I knew I wanted to reprint some of those. For example, Don Bassingthwaite’s story "Fruitcake" was in his collection, Cocktails at Seven, Apocalypse at Eight, and I knew it belonged in War on Christmas because of its gonzo, hilarious lunacy. And of course Neil Gaiman’s famous "Nicholas Was..." which I heard him read in Toronto many, many years ago. But most of our stories are originals gleaned from the open submissions process. We went for stories that were unique, made us laugh like crazy, and that fit the spirit of what we were doing. No censorship!
How do you view the pieces in the book as speaking to each other?
I don’t know whether they speak to each other, per se. Maybe they’re at war with each other? That would fit the paradigm perfectly! But it is kind of like... a written Theatre of the Absurd, performed by people in adjacent rooms. Sort of. You go from one nutty premise to another, but I think perhaps they are all unified in their refusal to accept the status quo. They reflect on the absurdity of our times. Or maybe all of human history? Culminating in a deliciously nonsensical, satirical elegy to our rigid view of holidays and culture.
What do you need when you're writing and editing – in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?
I need silence, no interruptions, and lack of clutter. I mostly get none of those. Also, long stretches of time to focus. I don’t get those either.
What do you hope readers will take away from these pieces, after having read them all? Is there a question you set out to address or delve into through these works?
I hope their funny bones are tickled. I hope they are horrified. Amazed. Offended. Lying on the floor, holding their sides, wheezing with laughter! The entire world seems like a dumpster fire nowadays. I hope that War on Christmas gives people a much-needed laugh in dark times. How could machine-gun-toting elves or a monkey attacking a Christmas tree not make you chuckle? If there’s a question I wanted to address, it’s maybe, "How far can we go with this?" Heh.
What defines a great collection or anthology, in your opinion? Were there anthologies you looked to for inspiration in curating this project?
A great anthology brings you great writing by great writers. It delivers something unusual that you haven’t seen before. Doing a humorous anthology is a difficult thing—because what people find funny is not universal. There really aren’t a lot of holiday anthologies out there quite like this one—most Christmas anthologies, for example, are the saccharine, kiss-under-the-mistletoe, my-dog-survived-the-snowstorm type. Or something like Love, Actually (a movie I deeply hated). Emotionally manipulative, ultimately catering to the lowest common denominator. But people love that stuff. I don’t. I wanted to produce a book that catered to the H.L. Menckens of the world. People who realize that being marginally kind to others for a couple of weeks in December doesn’t offset being a total dick the rest of the year. But also people who enjoy deflating our sacred cows and having some good lighthearted, satirical fun. This book is for people who like Arrested Development. Maybe not so much for people who like Everybody Loves Raymond.
I will say that I was inspired a bit by David Hartwell’s sci-fi anthology, Christmas Stars, and perhaps Victorian Christmas ghost story collections. Oh—and “Christmas Every Day” by William Dean Howells—a story I read as a child which always made me laugh. A little girl gets her wish and has Christmas every day. And it’s horrible. The author takes a silly wish to its inevitable conclusion. Delicious!
What are you working on next?
Producing ChiZine Publications’ books, working on my next poetry collection, trying to finish my horror novel. And putting the final touches on our next anthology, Other Covenants, edited by Mark Shainblum and Andrea D. Lobel—about alternate Jewish histories. Mark and Andrea did all the hard work; I’m just neatening the corners!
Sandra Kasturi is a poet, writer and editor, and the co-publisher of the World Fantasy and British Fantasy Award-winning press, ChiZine Publications. She is the co-founder (with Helen Marshall) of the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium and the national Chiaroscuro Reading Series. Sandra’s work has appeared in various venues, including ON SPEC, Prairie Fire, several Tesseracts anthologies, Evolve, Chilling Tales, A Verdant Green, TransVersions, ARC Magazine, Taddle Creek, Abyss & Apex, 80! Memories & Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin, and Stamps, Vamps & Tramps. Her two poetry collections are: The Animal Bridegroom (with an intro by Neil Gaiman) and Come Late to the Love of Birds.