Inspiration & the Muse – Part I

Christmas is over and we’re getting ready for the New Year festivities. That won’t stop me from writing a little something about a subject that’s been tumbling around in my head the last weeks. Well, truth be told it’s been tumbling around in there quite often for a much longer time–most of my life, I suspect. On a frequent basis, even if now and then it is gone for a while. It always comes back in some form or other…

What is inspiration?

What inspires?

I will not come up with some fancy catch-all answer to these two questions. Don’t worry. I know very well it’s close to impossible–and if I tried it would probably be pretty boring to read. No, instead I will take up the subject once in a while, and write something new about it, add a new angle to it. And perhaps it even makes a little sense to anyone reading this blog.

Perhaps it can even inspire? Who knows?

Anyway, what can inspire a good horror story (or a good weird tale, if you’re more comfortably with that)? The answer can be summed up like this, I think: Anything. Anything can inspire a good tale. The main premise for any story to be good is, I think, in the execution; if it is well written (broadly defined, since the criteria for this crucial element can vary) a story will end up being good, regardless of what inspired it. That’s almost a given. But what I want to focus on now is the inspiration part, not the good part. And, really, inspiration can come from anywhere. From your imagination, from your favorite authors (hell, even those you don’t like!), from newspapers, real-life events, from any bookshelf you see…

It’s true. Here’s a sample of ideas I’ve gotten from simply taking a random look at my Academic/Scholarly works here in my office at home:

The End of the World by John Leslie. Okay, almost too easy, right? The title alone is almost a cliché within horror tales (and some sci-fi areas too). But still–perhaps one can blend it with, say, Antonio R. Damasio’s Descartes’ Error? You can of course try to go into details of what these two books are trying to say, if you want to go technical, but you can also cook up an interesting idea of some philosopher/scientist who discovers that Descartes’ dualism turns out to be more true than most scientists of today believe–but that his idea of the function of the pineal body turns out to be a keystone to understanding higher (and darker) dimensions–ultimately unleashing unnameable horrors on the world, hence an “end of the world” scenario.

Robert M. Pirsig: Lila. An Inquiry Into Morals. Well, I actually co-wrote a 10,000 word story with this one as a central piece. The idea of big cities as living creatures/monsters is nothing new, I know, but at the time we thought we gave it a new spin with adding philosophical elements from Pirsig’s book–and placing it all in a remote country side in Poland. Oh–adding touches of genealogy, for good measures. (No, this story has never been published. What I talk about here is inspiration, not necessarily publication;-))

The Language of Metaphors by Andrew Goatly and I Am A Strange Loop by Douglas R. Hofstadter. Ooh, weird ideas demanding attention now! A man wakes up to discover that whenever he speaks what he says turns into physical reality of some sort, right in front of him and everyone else. His wife is scared shitless (pardon my French) and divorces him, and soon he has to run away from authorities who want to take a clinical, scientific look at him to find out what’s going on. At some point he–along with the reader–discovers that certain things seem to be recurring themes ever since he woke up that fateful morning. Perhaps he even starts to hear strange voices, or see–briefly, in too short glimpses–something “in between spaces” of what he experiences?

Well, just a few, quick ideas.

Oh, and I did I tell you of the time I wrote a short story inspired by a name in a Norwegian Phone Book? It ended up with the title “Just An Accountant” and is also part Lovecraft, part Philip K. Dick on the inspirational side.

Inspiration is a strange, wonderful thing, coming in the strangest places. Again, I am not saying the stories are bound to be good stories, but if you are truly inspired when you write it can’t go all wrong.

You get the idea, right?

I look forward to hearing some of your inspirations.

And Happy New Year’s Eve, everybody! (Perhaps something you experience that night will inspire you?)

YES! The Prayed-for Review! (in Danish, ahem)

Yes, this short post is in Danish. I will elaborate soon in English;-)

Til min store og usigelige overraskelse blev Strømsholts De underjordiske anmeldt i weekendens Weekendavisen! (Uge 50) Det kan næsten ikke blive større her i Danmark, kan det vel? Og at det er en meget, meget positiv anmeldelse skrevet af Leonora Christina Skov fuldender det hele. Så min bøn nævnt tidligere i denne blog er åbenbart blevet hørt. Skønt!

Jeg har så haft forrygende travlt med at modtage ordrer mandag og i dag, tirsdag–et dejligt “problem” at være stødt på her i de sidste juledage. Anmeldelsen har i hvert fald her og nu en endog meget positiv effekt–og man kan jo kun unde nye læsere af Strømsholt og danske fantastiske fortællinger at få denne fine hardcover under årets juletræ. Jeg har i hvert fald sendt dem afsted. Om de ankommer i tide, well, det er jo op til postvæsenet. Og det ved vi jo godt ind imellem viser sig at være et uvæsen:-/

Jeg vil afslutte dette indlæg med lige at citere fra anmeldelsen: “Thomas Strømsholts debutnoveller er ualmindeligt stærke og vellykkede. Hvis nogen fortjener at blive hevet op fra den litterære undergrund og introduceret til et større publikum, må det være ham.”

Præcis! Sidstnævnte er netop årsagen til at jeg udgav denne bog.

Tak for det, Leonora Christina Skov!

Amateurdom & Me

My involvement in the amateur press association known as the EOD (yes, the Esoteric Order of Dagon;-)) has given me more pleasure than I can say. The latest pleasure is that this Sunday another member of the Order came and visited me & my family in my home. Fred Phillips is his name, and he had his wife, Dee, with him. We had a marvelous time, with laughter, anecdotes, good food (thanks to my wife, not me) and just plain good, jolly fun in the finest possible company you can imagine. And we had never met before IRL. Yet it was like hooking up with a good friend, and there really wasn’t any awkwardness involved, which it is my experience often is the case if you’ve never met a person before. They came from the US!

This would never have happened if not for the EOD. And, admittedly, the Internet, since we have also swapped e-mails on a regular basis. Isn’t it marvelous?

In the essay “What Amateurdom and I Have Done for Each Other” Lovecraft stated that amateurdom literally saved his life. I won’t go as far as that but amateurdom has played an important part in my life–and without it I probably never would have thrown myself into the stormy waters that small press publication is.

Besides good friends (now also IRL), it has given me tons of inspiration. I have read who knows how many interesting essays and comments about just about anything even remotely related to Lovecraft and his circle… And quite some things about matters outside that sphere as well. And I have had a chance to try writing stuff in a friendly, yet certainly demanding, extremely knowledgeable and intellectually sharp environment about matters that hold  my interest.

S. T. Joshi is the Official Editor and the one who–it is a mystery how–pulls everything together and makes sure we all play nice and contribute something. He alone is a giant to be inspired by, of course. But it is not only the professionals, like him, that are inspiring, I tell you. Everyone is inspiring. Because we all have a deeply seated passion for Lovecraftiana and the weird tale.

The EOD is also the first place I officially tried sharing some of my own attempts at fiction… And the criticism is invaluable. (Lately I have only shared such writing attempts to individuals via e-mail, simply because the shadows of Lovecraft do not loom clearly upon the pages of my feeble writings, and I don’t want to impose things too far away from the fringe of our shared interests.)

Derrick Hussey (Hippocampus Press, check it out: http://hippocampuspress.com!) must be mentioned here, for he is the main reason I ended up taking the jump to create H. Harksen Productions as a official publishing company. For years it was simply a little joke on my part, when I assembled my fanzine journal, The Philosopher, for the EOD. I liked to give off the impression that it was published by “some company”… And so I used the, at the time, fake company name H. Harksen Productions. No reason, really, except for the fun of it.

Getting acquainted with Derrick (he was also the one inviting me to join the Order, btw) was really an eye opener. I don’t think I have ever mentioned it to Derrick, but getting familiar with his small press, Hippocampus Press, was my entrance into the whole idea of small pressing. You see, I didn’t even think of Arkham House as a small press. It is, and has always been, yes, but to me–a young man living outside the US, in Denmark–Arkham House was big. Sure, I felt the same with Derrick’s press (I still do, in many ways), but this was the first time I started to realize it was actually what is known as a small press. And, pardon my language, a damn fine one!

Wouldn’t it be marvelous if one could do something like that?

The seed to what later became H. Harksen Productions, with official ISBN numbers etc., was laid. Thanks to Derrick Hussey, a person I have yet to meet in person, but who I got to know via the Internet and the EOD. Along with many other fine individuals from all around the world.

Some of the people in the EOD have even been so kind as to help me with my first, feeble attempts at publishing. W. H. Pugmire and Leigh Blackmore are two obvious writers to mention here–they both kindly gave me some great stories for hplmythos.com Vol. 1, Eldritch Horrors: Dark Tales. And John D. Haefele has decided to join company with me with a couple of his groundbreaking, scholarly projects on August Derleth: August Derleth Redux: The Weird Tale 1930-1971 and the forthcoming A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos (early 2011). (Read more on http://hplmythos.com)

Thinking of things like this, I feel lucky and, well, almost blessed. (I say “almost,” since I do not believe in a Godly being.) It is humbling and very rewarding. And something that helps me through the dark nights of winters & gloomy thoughts, whenever they threaten to take over everything in my life.

I owe a lot–a lot!–to amateurdom.

I have a suspicion that is quite common when it comes to the weird fiction milieu.

I like that.