Writing On the Side

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My Writer Self

As some of you know I also write. Most of you know me as a publisher, editor and all-time Lovecraft afficionado — but, yeah, I also write stories. And I need to promote that a bit. So here you go:

I write stories in English and Danish, the latter being my primary language. And yeah — don’t worry, my English stories are better proofread and edited than some of these blogs; the blogs are written very much as spur-of-the-moment, whereas the stories are looked over again and again, by myself and others. That goes for my Danish stories as well, come to think of it.

In general I write in the weird fiction vein. I can’t help but be inspired by the marvelous, the strange and the horrible. And I want to explore that. Very often my stories have a philosophical bend, not surprisingly, I suppose, since I have a degree in Philosophy, and philosophical reflections are as natural to me as breathing. Hopefully this fact doesn’t interfere with a given story and its ability to pull in the reader.

I consider “weird fiction” a large playground. I know that to many, any given genre imposes limitations, and that’s true — and is a subject worthy of another, separate blog post — but I think of “weird fiction” as an overarching characterization, encompassing several genres, e.g. horror, paranormal, fantasy and, from time to time, science fiction. That said, one of my primary inspirations has been, and remains, H. P. Lovecraft. Please notice that I say inspiration.

I have several projects that I work on.

In Danish my main project these days is writing my first novel, Mørkets troubadour (eng. Troubadour of the Dark), the first in the tetralogy with the title Zombie Zane tetralogien (eng. The Zombie Zane Tetralogy, in case you were wondering, hehe). The Series title is still subject to change. This tetralogy is an oddball, and truth be told I am uncertain if people will enjoy it, but it is a tale I need to tell, at any cost. Whether I am good enough a writer to pull it off is for others to decide. It is a post-apocalyptic story of sorts, and I weave sci-fi, fantasy and horror in a huge tapestry where, hopefully, a coherent storyline will emerge. If not before, it should become clear in the fourth book, Tågernes fyrste (eng. The Lord of the Mists).

In the first book we catch a scene happening on a hot Summer night right up to the apocalypse, where a strange girl meets a desillusioned writer and… well, things happen;-) Cut — and we’re somewhere in the future, and the surviving humans are living mainly underground. A guard is sent off to a secret mission by a Magister, one of the dark leaders, and on that mission he encounters a character dreaded by everyone, a character whose very presence means that doom for all mankind is imminent: The Troubadour of the Dark.

That’s a very short outline, even for a summary, of course;-)

I am also revising a short story, “Hr. Clegors blodbank” (eng. “Mr. Clegor’s Blood Bank”). A strange story about a man who starts to live a  bizarre, bohemian, yet very artistic and fulfilling, life after a visit to a mysterious “blood bank” one night. A tale about yearning for autenthic, creative life in a world where everything is grey and dull, I suppose you could say. Of course, with a dark twist or two;-) This story owes a lot to the Danish weird tale writer Jonas Wilmann, who supplied me with the story’s opening line. (A little side note: Jonas won the Danish horror reward 2012 for his gritty collection of dark tales, Frygt-filerne (eng. The Fear-Files). If you want to read a Danish horror collection I urge you to buy that one. Also, earlier this week he published Udkantshistorier (eng. Outskirts Stories), which looks very promising, although I haven’t read it yet. Support a cool indie writer in Denmark:-))

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In English I recently submitted the wee tale “The Strange Franco Santanarium de Marco” to an anthology. Here’s hoping it will be accepted. It’s one of my shorter stories but I quite like it. If you want comparison I suppose it’s a Ligottian kind of story. It takes place in a city that is crumbling, I like that:-)

I am also working on a heavy re-write of a story called “Of Such Terrible Beauty.” It is a story I originately wrote with a specific anthology in mind (no, I won’t tell you which one;-)) but I discovered that my knack for writing theme-oriented stories is next to non-existing. Apparently, my creative juices just do not like to be forced into a framework by others. I have the highest respect for writers who manages that and I see great stories written like this, but it seems that it’s just not my way of doing things as a writer. As a result, the original story was an ugly behemoth — but with gems here and there in the shivering corpse. And that’s where “Of Such Terrible Beauty” showed itself. I think it will become quite a nice tale taking place in some strange future.

Oh, and then there’s my novella, “Night Time” (title subject to change), which haunts me. I started working on it, what, 5 years ago or something, and it’s still not completed. It’s a Meat Loaf-meets-Nick Cave-and-Marilyn Mansion kind of story;-) A man is unravelling in the big city and as that happens he encounters modern witches and discovers that the city has a life — and, if you will, a mind — of its own. (Yes, I can say that without giving away too much. Besides, it will be a couple of years before it will see publication somewhere anyway, and then this blog post will be forgotten;-))

My problem with that one is not the storyline; that’s pretty much settled a long time ago. The problem is getting the right imagery, which is so vital for it to work. But I’m getting there.

You can read one of my stories for free over at the excellent Lovecraft eZine: “Just An Accountant.” One of my more action-driven stories.

So, that about wraps it up for now. Back to Zombie Zane.

Talking Urban Cthulhu: Writing Nightmares — Interview 2

The Statement of Frank Elwood (illustration by Tom Kristensen)

Illustration by Tom Kristensen

 

Peter Rawlik is one of the bright shining stars in the Lovecraftian skies these days. I am proud to have a tale of his in Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities (hplmythos.com Vol. 2).

Pete kindly replied to my questions.

Enjoy.

 

Q: You have a story in Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities (hplmythos.com Vol. 2), “The Statement of Frank Elwood.” Without giving away spoilers what can the reader expect of this tale?

A: Lovecraft’s tale, “Dreams in the Witch House” tells the story of Walter Gilman and how he fell under the influence of the witch Keziah Mason, and was eventually killed. My story looks at those events, but through the eyes of Gilman’s friend Frank Elwood who makes his own discoveries concerning Keziah Mason and the dark history of Arkham.

Q: What inspired this particular story?

A: Stories don’t really begin or end, they are merely scenes from people’s lives edited down to the necessities. The original story focuses on Walter Gilman, but his friend Frank Elwood is, from time to time, notably and conveniently absent, why? When Gilman is obviously troubled both physically and mentally, and on the verge of some horrific breakdown, what is so pressing that Elwood be somewhere else? Elwood has his own story to tell, one in which Gilman is the minor character.

Q: Speaking of inspiration: What is it about the writings of H. P. Lovecraft you like and that inspires you? And do you find Lovecraftian stories and more overtly Cthulhu Mythos stories equally interesting and inspiring?

A: Lovecraft was a consummate world-builder and myth-maker, and the complexities of his universe are inherently attractive, and inspirational. While I favor stories that are overtly Cthulhu Mythos, and preferably part of the extended Arkham milieu, I do appreciate stories that draw from the core of Lovecraft’s philosophy, and cosmicism in general.

Q: The philosophical views held by Lovecraft – cosmic indifferentism and the existential core of life’s meaninglessness, for example – are of special interest to me. Much of this is clearly present in his letters. Does his thinking and letter writing have any influence on you?

A: Lovecraft’s complex and interconnected stories show the development of his philosophy, moving from more traditional tales of the fantastic towards horror fiction rooted in more scientific, and less anthropocentric foundations. This progress, which helped change the course of weird fiction, is clear in his letters. However, Lovecraft’s letters also show that he was just as concerned with storytelling as he was with his philosophy, and was often unsatisfied with his accomplishments. This extensive documentation offers a rare insight into the creative mind that cannot and should not be ignored.

Q: What differentiates your work from HPL’s?

A: Most people think that Lovecraft was frightened by the cosmic unknown, but I disagree. There are passages, particularly at the end of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” that suggest otherwise. I think Lovecraft was indeed suggesting that the universe is terrifying, and that man may not be ready for it, but the process of discovering this is in itself transformative. Man will touch the truth and be changed by it, and then embrace it. Lovecraft hinted at this possibility, whereas my own work in this direction is more overt.

Q: What else inspires you? What other authors – and anything else? (E.g. movies, comics, artwork?)

A: Many of Lovecraft’s stories are based on the correlation of seemingly unconnected events and facts into some grand implication. In the process there is a significant amount of weaving together facts, pseudo-facts and innuendo. This is true also of the writers in the Wold-Newton tradition, most notably Phillip Jose Farmer, Kim Newman and Allan Moore. The ability to mine disparate works of fiction for details, hints and tenuous connections, and then blend them to create something new, I find simply astounding, and yes inspiring.

Q: Some people (writers, readers and critics alike) claim that a writer needs to find and have “a voice” of his/her own. Do you agree with this?

A: Much of my fiction is told through the first person point of view, because I think that horror is a personal, visceral experience, and this is the most powerful way to write such stories. In doing this I create characters, place them in situations, and they then speak through me. If their voices sound familiar, I can only blame the people who influenced me, the people I have read. Do I need to find my own voice? Only when my characters pause long enough that I need to speak without them.

Q: The 1970s and 1980s saw a boom in horror publications – Stephen King, Peter Straub and Dean R. Koontz being the most commercially prominent authors here – but then it all seemed to wane somewhat. How do you see the field, as a whole, today?

A: I disagree. King, Koontz, Straub, and Rice are the most commercially prominent authors of the genre to carve and maintain a territory, and dozens of other authors attempted to do the same with limited success, that most likely did fade into the background. But I think the fundamental cores of weird and horror fiction moved from specialized genres and publishers into the cultural mainstream, colonizing other genres. Vampires, werewolves and zombies have moved into romance, mystery and science fiction; Elder Gods and Cosmicism have thoroughly invaded space opera; Alien, inhuman intelligences are prevalent in cyber-punk. Horror may not have waned, so much as been absorbed by other genres.

Q: For decades the Cthulhu Mythos sub-genre seemed to be mainly about writing pastiches, and generally of a questionable quality. Has this, in your opinion, changed in recent years? (If so, why do you think this is?)

A: I certainly hope so. Much of my work is considered pastiche, but I didn’t set out to imitate Lovecraft, I set out to tell stories that I felt he had left untold. The style came naturally. In a broader sense, I think that much of the pastiche done over the years was greatly influenced and controlled by August Derleth. His cultivation of some authors, and suppression of others (C. Hall Thompson) shaped, perhaps even laid the foundation for the sub-genre. Consequently, later works, guided by editors like Lin Carter and Robert Price, were from writers who were profoundly influenced not by Lovecraft, but by Lovecraft mediated by Derleth. As Derleth’s influence over the genre fades into history, new voices have emerged that are unfettered, and able to explore styles and themes previously untouched. Some of these explorations will fail, but some are simply stunning.

Q: Do you have any work routine? Do you work day or night, for example? Lay out the plot line first, write whatever inspiration takes you, listen to a certain kind of music?

A: I don’t plot, I find characters, beg, borrow or steal them if I can. Then I lay them out in timelines around critical events, throw them into the fray and then let them do what seems natural. Sometimes this takes me to strange places, and sometimes a particular character eclipses another, but the results are usually interesting, and sometimes the ending requires that the beginning be rewritten completely. I work mostly at night and on the weekends, usually in marathon sessions. As unproductive as it sounds, I usually write while watching television, particularly British mystery series such as A Touch of Frost, Midsummer Murders, and The Last Detective.

Q: When did you find out you wanted to be a writer – and why weird fiction and horror?

A: I’ve always written stories, though obviously my first attempts as a preteen weren’t very good. Thankfully much of this has been lost. In my teens I focused on poetry (though I still have the pages to my first novella), some of which was published, though I can’t recall where. Horror was easy to write, no matter how bad the story was, one good scene of worms or slugs crawling in and out of a man’s hair, or an empty tomb, or the walking dead was all that was needed to engender a visceral and immediate reaction. Horror fiction often resulted in an instant reaction from my readers, and therefore instant gratification for me the writer.

Q: Why short stories? After all, the novel seems to be the most commercially feasible product.

A: While novels are the most commercially feasible products, they are also huge investments both for the writer and publisher. Short stories are safer bets for both, particularly new authors, minimizing the commitment and risk both parties have to make to each other, while also forging professional bonds. Additionally, stories work as advertising and garner fans for what are hopefully bigger and better things.

Q: I am sure many readers would like to hear more of what else you have written and where they can find your work. Care to tell us a little about that?

A: I’ve appeared in several of the French themed Tales of the Shadowmen anthologies from Black Coat Press. My Lovecraftian fiction has appeared in the anthologies Dead But Dreaming 2, Horror for the Holidays, and Future Lovecraft, as well as on-line in the Lovecraft Ezine and Innsmouth Magazine.

Q: What can we expect from you in the future? Any specific stories or projects soon to be published? Perhaps something you’re working on right now that you want to hint at? ;)

A: At this moment I have more than a dozen stories pending publication. “The Statement of Frank Elwood” has been republished, along with another story, in Robert Price’s Worlds of Cthulhu from Fedogan and Bremer. In July of 2013 my novel, Reanimators will appear from Night Shade Books. I’m currently working on a sequel, well, two really.

Q: Do you have any advice for upcoming writers who want to pen weird stories?

A: Writing is like any other profession, it takes time and practice, and even then there is no guaranty that you’ll actually get noticed. Have a plan on how to make contacts, and create opportunities. Remember there are hundreds of other people trying to do exactly the same thing. What makes you any different? How are you going to get off the slush pile and into the editor’s hands?

Q: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Any last words of wisdom, warning or just plain weird you want to say?

A: It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye, and then it’s a party!

Talking Urban Cthulhu: Writing Nightmares — Interview 3

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Illustration by Tom Kristensen

 

We now return to the interviews with the cool authors contributing to Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities (hplmythos.com Vol. 2). This time it is T. E. Grau,  another one of the bright, new stars in the Lovecraftian sky today. One of the most versatile there is.

Ted kindly replied to my probing questions, not surprisingly with witty, thoughtful and enlightening answers.

Enjoy.

 

Q: You have a story in Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities (hplmythos.com Vol. 2), “The Screamer.” Without giving away spoilers what can the reader expect of this tale?

A:  Hopefully a healthy slice of white collar, cubicle horror mixed with cosmic Weirdness set in an urban environment that varies from sidewalk gritty to office building antiseptic.  Some have said that if you take out the “Lovecraftian” elements, the story could stand alone as a Los Angeles Noir tale.  While that wasn’t my original intention, I’m honored by the comparison, as I’m a big fan of Noir, especially that set in my adopted city.

What inspired this particular story?

A:  This story comes straight from my 9 to 5.  Or, more accurately, my 10:30 to 8, as my office hours are insane.  The Screamer is an actual “thing,” in that I heard this man (I’m certain that it was a male) yelp, howl, and scream every single day at around the same time (between noon and 12:30 pm) for weeks and months on end a few years back.  While the skyscrapers of Century City (aka “The Lawyer Capital of LA”) distort the direction of sound, I’m positive that it came from my back left as I sat at my desk, which would put The Screamer somewhere between Beverly Hills High School and the far southwestern end of this self contained mini-city, in the shadow of the old Herbalife building on the corner of Little Santa Monica.  I always thought this was a very strange and unique occurrence, and wanted to write a story about it – a Lovecraftian one, at that, as it involved a mysterious sort of yelping insanity – but I could never find a suitable ending that wasn’t some ’Craftian cliché.  Finally, after talking about it with my wife Ives, she suggested an ending that I had never considered and it all clicked into place.  So, I always credit her with helping me find The Screamer, and dedicate the tale to her.

Q: Speaking of inspiration: This story is, obviously, Lovecraftian and/or Cthulhu Mythos inspired, or it would not be included in this collection. What is it about the writings of H. P. Lovecraft you like and that inspires you? And do you find Lovecraftian stories and more overtly Cthulhu Mythos stories equally interesting and inspiring?

A:  I probably sound like a religion-bashing broken record at this point, but I truly credit my Evangelical Christian upbringing with fostering a passion for the Cosmicism created – or more rightly, expanded – by the works of Lovecraft and his peers who came before and after him.  Once I broke free of the oppressive terror of eternal damnation, I found that a reality founded on the principles of incalculably old alien beings – “gods” for lack of a better term – that have existed long before our reality and our sense of God were even born very enticing, and liberating in some sense.   That, and I just love really big fucking monsters (not monsters who fuck, but just fucking big monsters) that treat planets like marbles and have no interest in the miniscule, unimportant existence of humanity.  The massive scale and antiquity of Lovecraft’s Mythos grabbed my sense of wonder and hasn’t let go since.  I will and am increasingly writing stories not set in the Lovecraftian milieu, but the old Gent will always call me back to Arkham, as I can’t ever foresee a day that Cosmic Horror doesn’t appeal to me as a reader and writer.  It’s just too much bloody fun to work in that limitless reality.

 Q: While it may not always be evident in my own writings or every story I accept for publication, the philosophical views held by Lovecraft – cosmic indifferentism and the existential core of life’s meaninglessness, for example – is of special interest to me. Much of this is clearly present in his letters. Does his thinking and letter writing have any influence on you?

A:  As touched upon above, the cosmic indifference of his creatures is certainly fascinating and inspiring in a creative sense, as it flies in the face of traditional Horror where humanity has special powers and domination over supernatural forces.  But, I find myself having very little in common with Lovecraft’s personal philosophies and views on the world, especially as they concern race, integration and that disgusting term “miscegenation.”

As such, I don’t celebrate the man, as I think we wouldn’t get on too well.  But I do celebrate his creations, which I must keep separate from their founder, lest I’d struggle to continue working under his wide and wondrous tent.

Q: What differentiates your work from HPL’s?

A:  First and foremost, my lack of acute racism and general joyful embrace of divergent cultures and world travel.  J  After that, I think my writing differs in terms of geographical and life experience.  I’ve been all over the States, North America, and dozens of countries in Europe, and although I spent my first decade in Pennsylvania, I came of age in Nebraska, on the High Plains, which gives one a little different terrestrial map in which to set stories, and where to find horror.

And, while my prose can purple it up with the best of them, I don’t feel as if my final draft verbiage is as dense as his (although some may disagree).  I happen to enjoy a bit of baroque in the fiction I read, and in what I write, but modern palettes find it hard to digest, so I try to balance my love of the flowered pen with the sensibilities of my readers, and the desire to make the prose as strong and tight as possible, with only enough fat for flavor.  Which often means toning myself down during re-writes, as what comes out naturally is just a shade less lavender than Lovecraft.

Q: What else inspires you? What other authors – and anything else? (E.g. movies, comics, artwork?) Not to mention: Why are you inspired by this? J

A:  Damn, Henrik, you’re making me work for this one:-) [Henrik: But of course;-)]

I think on a very basic level fostered in my early youth, I’m inspired by FANTASY, be it Dark, Heroic, and (mostly) everything in between.  Following on the heels of this is an awe of Cosmicism, born from my upbringing, where I was terrified and thrilled in equal measure by those Forces at work beyond all understanding and measurement.  This is seasoned by more than a dollop of Gothic appreciation, and a fascination with all things in a state of decay.  Old buildings, moldering books, weathered ruins… I just dig OLD STUFF, and Lovecraft obviously felt the same way, as he was an anachronist from way back.  My refusal to purchase and iPhone and e-reader fall in line with HPL views on modern conveniences and obsessive gadget culture.

Movies that inspire me are those that are creative and raw.  Stark and sometimes violent.  There Will Be BloodApocalypse NowGoodfellasPlanet of the Apes, etc.  Fantasy and sci-fi films of my youth electrified my synapses, including The Dark CrystalStar WarsThe Hobbit animated feature, and especially Time Bandits, which wound its way into many a youthful dream/nightmare.  I watched a bit of Japanese sci-fi anime as a kid whenever I could find it on the local Philadelphia UHF station (as the art was so much better, and the action much cooler), including Star Blazers, and the “men in suits” GodzillaUltramanGamera, and other monster films.  The Tom Baker-era Doctor Who scared the shit out of me as a kid, which was fun.  That production value, that British-ness…  Terrifying.  Amazing.

In the realm of comic books, I always loved Batman, especially Frank Miller’s strain (as well as some of the darker late 80’s Batman graphic novels), because of his inner struggle between level-headed justice and a lust for violent revenge in a grim, almost apocalyptic Gotham.  I also dug the X-MenWolverineThe PunisherThe CrowThe TickGroo the Wanderer, Vigil’s Faust.  Ron Lim’s Silver Surfer stoked my inner Cosmicist (GALACTUS!), while Neil Gaiman’s Sandman grabbed a hold of me tight because of its fantasy, mythology and cosmic elements combined with traditional Judeo-Christian afterlife constructs.  I also was pretty nutty about Savage Sword of Conan, as I love a brawny, bloody tale of sword and sorcery.  Without knowing it, I have and always will be a devout believer in the Big Three of Weird Tales (HPL, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith), as all three scratch me where I itch in different but ultimately satisfying ways.

As for artwork, I’m absolutely in love with several Polish fantasy painters, including Wiesław Wałkuski, Jacek Yerka, and my favorite contemporary painter of all time, Zdzislaw Beksiński.   Other artists that really inspire and resonnate with me include Kris Kuksi, Frank Frazetta, Arthur Rackham, Michael Hussar, H.R. Geiger, Boris Vellejo, Salvador Dali, Chiharu Shiota, and Arnaud de Vallois (who’s doing the cover of my joint collection).   There are so many more who practice the dark arts of surrealism and fantasy, I just can’t recall their names the moment.

I write to music, which is usually something doomy (metal or ambiant), Baroque Classical, or movie scores.  That or Iron Maiden.  My internal soundtrack is a live Maiden show (with opening act The Sword).

Q: Some people (writers, readers and critics alike) claim that a writer needs to find and have “a voice” of his/her own. Do you agree with this? (Why?/Why not?)

A:  I do and I don’t.

I am generally noncommittal on this because I’ve been told that I personally have a distinctive voice in my prose.  I’m encouraged by this, as I think readers will follow a certain writer based on a certain voice.  But, I can also appreciate an authorial and/or writerly chameleon, as that is what I did when I was working exclusively as a screenwriter, especially for the punch-up and re-write gigs I booked.  I prided myself on being able to adapt to any genre, style, and even potential market (some of which weren’t exactly Anglo nor even American).  In addition, my wife Ives – an exceptional writer – has a knack for adapting and morphing her style to suit the story, setting, genre, time period, and other external factors of each story, from whimsical to hard scrabble Western.  I’m impressed by such versatility, and therefore love a writer that can alters one’s voice to serve the needs of the story at hand.  I do that to some degree, as a story like “In the Cave, She Sang”  (published in The Aklonomicon) is quite different from, say, “The Screamer” or “Free Fireworks (published in Horror for the Holidays).

That said, I love a true stylist, and appreciate the reliability of texture only woven by a specific author.  This is comforting, and allows me to seek out certain stories/novels depending on my mood.  Sometimes I want clean and stark, and sometimes I want lush and baroque.  This is why I enjoy HPL’s work so much, as he’s as dependable as a gaudy, Old World cuckoo clock.

URBAN_front_cover1

Artwork by Paul Carrick

Q: Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities is an attempt to collect Lovecraftian and Cthulhu Mythos inspired stories that steer in a more urban direction than what we typically see in the sub-genre. How will you personally define “urban Cthulhu” and “urban horror”?

A:  Obviously, with “urban” as a descriptor, the stories must be set in a non-rural setting.  But moving deeper than that, I think “urban horror” and “urban Cthulhu” reflect a certain strain of despair and worn out nihilism that can only be born in an urban environment, birthed by the crush of middle brow humanity, the stacking of the impoverished, and the feeling of claustrophobia that often lives within canyons of cement, steel, and glass.

And, as most real-life horror comes from the heart of humanity, cities are a breeding ground for terror and violence, as a person just can’t seem to live too close to another without one day wanting to brain that individual and cook their organs.

Q: The 1970s and 1980s saw a boom in horror publications – Stephen King, Peter Straub and Dean R. Koontz being the most commercially prominent authors here – but then it all seemed to wane somewhat. How do you see the field, as a whole, today?

A:  I admittedly got into the game late, meaning that nearly a whole decade of the 21st century passed before I decided to wade into the prose pool, after wasting a decade feeding the ducks in Hollywood as a screenwriter.  But, in the last few years since I’ve been active in the Horror game as a writer, essayist, editor, and blogger, I’ve seen a blossoming of speculative fiction, especially that rooted in Lovecraft and his fellow Pulp Weirdists, and their creative forefathers and mothers who carved the supernatural fiction genre out of myth, fairy tale, and oral tradition.

As I’m now stretching into my 4th decade on this beautiful blue marble, I wish I could comment on the rise and fall of Horror publication and scholarship, as I was certainly alive during this period, but I unfortunately cannot.  I’ve read about the heyday of horror writing in the late 70s and 80s, but I missed out on all of that in real time.  Back then, I was embroiled in month-long D&D sessions, painting lead figurines, and reading “fantasy adventure” (as we called it then) books well into junior high and early high school, as Heroic Fantasy was my first love.  In college, I was a music journalist and humor columnist for several local magazines (a few of which I helped found) in Omaha, Nebraska and the wider Midwest.  Fast forward a few years, and after putting my soul on consignment in Hollywood for just a bit over a decade (1998 to 2010), Ives encouraged me to give up the Ghost of Screenwriting Dreams Past and do what I really wanted to do, which was write Lovecraftian/Weird stories in prose, fostered by my repeated attempts to inject Lovecraft into every horror script I was approached to either co-write or punch up.  Looking back at my sad sack accomplishments in screenwriting (which included many uncredited, peanut pay gigs), I followed her advice and haven’t looked back since.

So, VERY long story not very short, I don’t have much knowledge of the recent past rise of Horror, but I have seen an explosion of The Weird the last few years, including much Lovecraftian fiction and scholarly writing.  I think it’s the perfect time to be alive in this genre, but as with every scene, there is some bad with the good.  As Cthulhu gets pimped out even harder by every enterprising soul looking to cash in on something they don’t well understand, the uptick in Lovecraftian interest has produced some pretty lousy prose, and has reduced The Great Priest to a stuffed animal.  Ah, progress, in all of its many splendors…

Q: For decades the Cthulhu Mythos sub-genre seemed to be mainly about writing pastiches, and they were (let’s be honest here) generally of a questionable quality. Has this, in your opinion, changed in recent years? (If so, why do you think this is?)

A:  I absolutely think it has changed, while also staying the same.

With the increase in new Lovecraftian fiction being written, based on demand and renewed interest and visibility of Lovecraft’s creations (film fests, plush Cthulhus, Internet memes, Del Toro’s brush with AtMoM, etc.) there are two divergent strands developing, and thickening in strength.  The first is the grand tradition of pastiche or “fan fiction,” where writers mimic the style of Lovecraft, publishers slap a picture of Cthulhu on the book cover, and viola! LOVECRAFTIAN FICTION!

The second is a more nuanced approach, where writers who are influenced by Lovecraft concoct stories that channel that nebulous “Lovecraftian” vibe, which includes such themes as dread, apocalyptic doom, intercosmic horrors, etc.

I prefer the second grouping, although I’m certainly not immune to the charms of the first, as a reader and a writer.  Pastiche can be good fun.

Q: Do you have any work routine? Do you work day or night, for example? Lay out the plot line first, write whatever inspiration takes you, listen to a certain kind of music?

A:  I work at my “day job” office six days a week, so my creative writing schedule varies greatly, while also maintaining a semblance of routine, which is very important to me.  After dropping off my daughter at school, I normally head to the gym, where I read the works of others, usually for possibly publication in Strange Aeons magazine (where I serve as Fiction Editor), or possibly a review and interview piece for publication at my blog The Cosmicomicon.  This often entails stories/novels written by my contemporaries currently writing in the Horror, Lovecraftian, and Weird Fiction scene.  But, to keep me grounded and provide variety, I sometimes throw in stories and works by more classic writers in the genre, like Ligotti, Blackwood, Machen, etc.  In this way, I start my day off with reading, which I believe is as essential as writing to any scribe.  It’s fuel, and one should never pour out more than he or she takes in.  Input should be greater than output, as it’s my opinion that a writer should read more than they write.

As the morning bleeds into the afternoon, I try to find snatches of time to write at my day job, often with dubious results.  As such, most of my writing occurs after 10:00 pm, with a bulk of it coming on Friday night, which usually starts in earnest after spending time with my wife and daughter, and then brewing up a stout pot of Irish Coffee.  I wrote “Transmission,” my first published work of fiction, almost entirely on weekends, and during the very wee hours, fueled by very loud music and very strong cups.  “The Screamer” was crafted in this way, as well.  Ride the speedball jag of caffeine and Jameson and put out the pages, then edit the next day, as things sometimes get a bit TOO Weird about 6 a.m on Saturday morning after not sleeping for 24 hours.

Q: When did you find out you wanted to be a writer – and why weird fiction and horror?

A:   When I was a wee lad, I wanted to be an Oceanographer, as Jaques Cousteau was my childhood idol.  I marveled at the strange, alien things that lived under the sea, that seemed so at odds with the physical characteristics of us plodding land animals.  It was a revelation of the strange and wondrous, and Cousteau served as an explorer – an emissary – of the weird inner space of our planet, and it thrilled me on a molecular level.  But while I was tripping out about the deep sea, I was also in the throes of late 70’s fantasy role playing games (D&D, Gamma World, Boot Hill, etc. – all that good TSR shit), art (Dragon Magazine), and even back yard live action adventurism (LARP-ing before LARP-ing was cool, with actual wooden swords and shields and an end result that always meant much actual bloodshed), which consisted of bashing on my neighbors with wooden swords and flails (socks filled with wet sand) for spray painted gold hidden around my semi-rural neighborhood in southeastern Pennsylvania.  This heady mix infected my soul in ways that I couldn’t shake even if I tried.  I wanted to create worlds of fantasy, which naturally led to a passion for writing, as my drawing skills weren’t up to snuff, and if I wanted to conjure new realities, the written word was my passport.

A few years later, in my high school Honors English class, we were assigned to write a five-page story of original fiction, on whatever topic.  I wrote a 28-page vignette that was basically the first chapter in a fantasy adventure novel.  I never finished that novel, but I did get an A+++ from my teacher, who included a note that I should try to get my work published.  That was my first encouragement to pursue writing.  At that point, I knew what I needed to do, and after many zigs and nutty fucking zags, I am finally doing what I should have done in the first place – write prose fiction.  It only took me 20+ years of publication in anything BUT prose fiction, but I finally arrived as the rumpled, frustrated thing on the doorstep of the looming, decrepit house that I had always been looking for, and found at long last.  Luckily, the door was unlocked, and a kettle was on the stove as I walked in.

Q: Why short stories? After all, the novel seems to be the most commercially feasible product.

A: I currently write short stories because of H.P. Lovecraft.  Period.  He was my entre into this world, and once I found out that there was a market for stories of the short variety based on the Mythos of HPL (thanks almost entirely to Yog-Sothoth.com), I pulled up a chair to the table and got to work.  Now I’m hooked, and have read so many amazing short story writers, including the more established masters like Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Ambrose Bierce, Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, William Hope Hodgson, Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Ligotti, T.E.D. Klein, as well as lesser known scribes, adding to a crush list which seems to grow each day as I discover other classic and modern writers of the Weird and supernatural who glorify in the short form.

Of the contemporary writers working in speculative fiction today, the ones I enjoy most are also those who primarily (or even only) write short stories.

I think it is more difficult to write an effective short story than a good novel, as – aside from size – novels have the luxury of bloat, and can absorb tangents and weak pages/chapters that would destroy a short story.   Short form tales have to be leaner, meaner, and pack a more efficient punch.  There’s an art and a magic to a well told short story, which is why I’m constantly shocked (although I shouldn’t be) when I realize how unpopular short stories and short story collections are with the wider reading public.  Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is recognized as not only the best short story ever written, but perhaps the greatest STORY ever penned.  It was a short story.  HPL ONLY wrote shorts (and novellas, which are just long form shorts).  Ligotti, and CAS, too.  Klein’s best works were his story tales.  I read very few novels these days, from any era, but consume shorts by the bushel basket.

All that said, I plan on writing a novel or two before I’m done, because I think expanding out ideas into so much available space sounds exciting.

Q: I am sure many readers would like to hear more of what else you have written and where they can find your work. Care to tell us a little about that? J

A:  My work has been published in such print anthologies as Dead But Dreaming 2The AklonomiconUrban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities (YAY!)Horror for the Holidays, and the upcoming anthologies Suction Cup Dreams: An Octopus AnthologyDark Fusions: Where Monsters Lurk, and Mark of the Beast, among a few more still in progress; and in the electronic publications Lovecraft eZine and Eschatology Journal.  In addition to fiction, I write essays and non-fiction pieces for The Teeming BrainWe Love Monsters, The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog, and the Esoteric Order of Dagon Amateur Press Association (edited by S. T. Joshi); and serve as Fiction Editor of Strange Aeons magazine.  My debut short fiction release will be a joint collection with my wife Ives Hovanessian, titled I Am Death, Cried the Vulture, which will be published in 2013, with a second solo fiction collection slated for release in 2014.

Q: What can we expect from you in the future? Any specific stories or projects soon to be published? Perhaps something you’re working on right now that you want to hint at? ;)

A:   After subbing a few Lovecraftian/Cosmic tales just the last few days, I’m currently working on several dark fiction tales (and futzing around with two novel outlines) that are decidedly non-Lovecraftian, as I want to stretch my wings a bit.  But, Cosmic Horror has and will always influence my writing, so even those stories that don’t seem to have any overt ‘Craftian elements.

In parallel to these projects, I’m slowly developing some new Lovecraftian terrestrial real estate through a series of stories that are either set in or around Salt Creek, Nebraska, a fictional town erected many strange aeons (*cough*) ago in the Sandhills of west-central Nebraska. It’s my love/hate letter to the land of my American ancestors, where I spent my life from 5th grade until five years out of university.  There is something quite terrifying about all that sky, all that open space…

Q: Do you have any advice for upcoming writers who want to pen weird stories?

A:  READ, damn it.  Fill your brain to the bursting point with the good stuff, starting with writers that you truly enjoy, and then work your way backward and outward, reading those writers who inspired the writers you love best.  That was my path as far as Weird/Horror Fiction, starting with Lovecraft, and then working down the spiral of the Weird Fiction spiderweb.   And don’t limit your reading.  Read it all, especially non-fiction and various news outlets.  You’d be surprised by how many of my story ideas were born while listening to NPR, perusing a blog, or paging through Vanity Fair.

Once you have your fuel squared away, just write what you love, in whatever style and genre that suits your fancy.  You’ll never have fun being someone you’re not, so be yourself.  When a singer opens their mouth, what comes out is what comes out.  You can’t change how you sing, regardless of what imitation you try.

Also, don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t be afraid to walk away.  Writing isn’t for everyone, and that’s totally fine.  One doesn’t need to be a writer to enjoy being a reader and overall fan of genre or wider fiction.

Q: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Any last words of wisdom, warning or just plain weird you want to say?

A:  The pleasure is all mine, Henrik.  Thank you for asking the roster of this superb antho to share their thoughts, as I’m always curious to hear from writers about the process, their inspiration for a certain tale, etc.

As for words of wisdom, I think I covered it just above.  My final word is that I apologize for taking up so much cyberspace with my rambling.   I’m usually on the other side of the microphone, so when it is turned around, I tend to prattle on.   But, really, in this celebrity dominated culture, where fucking dummies and vacant-eyed socialites occupy so much ether and air time, I figure it might be okay for a discussion about Lovecraftian and Horror Fiction to run a bit long, even if it does drown out an important story on a C-Lister’s shopping spree.

But, perhaps not.  I guess we’ll see…

 

That’s it, folks. What a great interview:-)

Here’s a couple of links to Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities:

H. Harksen Production’s own webshop

Amazon.com

From Cover To Cover (Inspiration & the Muse – Part III)

Mørkets troubadour front cover FIRSTtest_small

 

Here is the first, very rough outline to my own novel, Mørkets troubadour (eng. The Bard of Darkness), the first story in my Zombie Zane Tetralogy, coming this summer.

I’ve decided to share the progress of this cover. It may be of interest to some of you to see how such a piece of work can change and evolve (from time to time radically so).

I know, I know — “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But c’mon, seriously, a cover does influence us, whether we like it or not.  I dare say that unless we’re talking about a writer you are already familiar with and enjoy reading, chances are that the cover will have a major impact on your choice of new writer to read. I am not saying it’s the only influence (reviews, recommendations from friends etc. may be as important to you) but it’s still an influence.

I have worked quite a bit on this piece, especially the amulet. I build that one from the ground up on the computer. Hopefully you can’t see it but there are many layers involved in this one, simple illustration. I got to work with some techniques that I’ve never used before. But it does have a look that I like. Different from my normal stuff, but looking the way I want it to.

While I think I’m on track with the basic outline here, there are several things that most likely will be changed. But you’ve got to start somewhere:-) The amulet will stay (but how it stays, and where it will be, may very well change); the troubadour/monkish-like character will also stay (but in a completely different shape and size, this is only to have a visual of my idea). The rest… I am not sure. But still, I like the overall outline. The white background? On one hand I like it (it is wonderfully clean and without the “clutter” I often bring to covers, for good or worse;-)), on the other it may be too simple and “clean” for my taste.

Also, there’s the message to consider. What does this design tell people, the potential readers? And is it the message I want them to see?

If by any chance you have a minute I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. You can write it here, of course, but if you prefer I can also be reached on h.harksen.productions[at]gmail.com.

More later.

Thank you.

Krimimessen 2013 d. 16.-17. marts 2013

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Gæt hvor jeg er den kommende weekend? ;-)

Der er et fantastisk program på årets Krimimesse i Horsens. Bl.a. er der en række indslag på programmet, hvor horror i forskellige afskygninger er i fokus: Uddelingen af Dansk Horror Selskabs pris for Årets Danske Horrorudgivelse 2012 (de fem nominerede kan findes her: Kampen om Årets Danske Horrorudgivelse 2012 ) , interviews med f.eks. Annika von Holdt, Christian Refslow og Anne-Marie Vedsø Olesen. Sidstnævnte har også gyser-operaen Orkestergraven med, og vil lørdag d. 16. marts sidde i paneldiskussion med mig om dansk horror i dagens Danmark. Det bliver en rigtig spændende diskussion. Det starter kl. 13.50 i Arresten. Et passende sted, må man sige;-)

Direkte link: Gys og uhygge på Krimimessen 2013

Vi ses!

Sickness, Work… Where’d the Fun Go?

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Hmpf, I’m tired of being sick — and getting tired of sickness in the family. I don’t blame anyone (I blame the weather, though, which has been cold and dark long enough here in Denmark, thank you very much) but changes are in order. Okay, World? I know you are, metaphysically speaking, a cold and uncaring Universe but enough is enough. I need to get back to the human kind’s folly: the love, the senseless passion, okay?

One of my passions is teaching. But having lived more or less all the time this February away from my wife and child because of lecturing in Copenhagen (spiced with some sickness once in a while, of course) it is good to now enter a new phase of the year, with a much healthier schedule this Semester. One that vastly improves the chances of getting back to my main two goals: publishing fine books by talented writers and writing my own dark stories.

Let the passion come to life. Stay tuned later this week…

» In Praise of Horror that Horrifies The Teeming Brain

http://www.teemingbrain.com/2013/01/21/in-praise-of-horror-that-horrifies/

While we’re waiting for me to write a post, here’s a link to an interesting blog post on why the best horror should horrify and not simply be gory, shocking and disgusting.

An excellent piece by Richard Gavin over at The Teeming Brain:-)

Writing

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I also write, as some of you know. Here’s a picture from last week of me writing my latest wee tale, “The Strange Franco Santanarium de Marco.”

I’ve had some trouble uploading to my lulu account but next week should see the publication of Searight’s wonderful ride, LOVECRAFTIAN COVENS, with artwork by Allen Koszowski Stay tuned:-)

Talking Urban Cthulhu: Writing Nightmares — Interview 1

URBAN_front_cover1

(Artwork by Paul Carrick.)

Welcome to the first interview with one of the authors that contributed to the critically acclaimed Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities. About once a week from now on you will be able to look into the twisted minds of these literary anomalies (and that is a badge of honor, in case you were wondering). The focal point is, naturally, Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities but, not surprisingly, the interviews more often than not veer into other areas related to writing, reading and the weird tales field in general.

 

Q = question asked by yours truly, Henrik Sandbeck Harksen; A = answer by Thomas Strømsholt:

 

Q: You have a story in Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities (hplmythos.com Vol. 2), “Architect Eyes.” Without giving away spoilers what can the reader expect of this tale?

A: A tale of nightmares, weird architecture, and the splendour of nothing as seen through the eyes of an acolyte of a blind idiot god.

Q: What inspired this particular story?

A: When I saw the call for submissions for Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities, I was reading about architecture – the weird Carceri of Piranesi, the sombre visions of Boulée, the demented designs and theories associated with Deconstructivism – and the title immediately gave me the idea for the story. Another source of inspiration was David Bowie’s eminent song, “Thru’ These Architects Eyes,” from which the title of my story is derived.

Q: Speaking of inspiration: This story is, obviously, Lovecraftian and/or Cthulhu Mythos inspired, or it would not be included in this collection. What is it about the writings of H. P. Lovecraft you like and that inspires you? And do you find Lovecraftian stories and more overtly Cthulhu Mythos stories equally interesting and inspiring?

A: At the most basic level, I am attracted to that thrilling suggestion of unknown dimensions which form a major theme of H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction. A concurrent and equally fascinating theme is that of reason versus unreason. As the latter often shatters the rational or Hegelian world-view of the protagonist, the stories contain potentially subversive elements which – as far as I know – is wholly unintended by the author. Lovecraft’s best stories ring true and honest. His delirious and yet precise prose convincingly conveys such feelings as awe, estrangement and horror, and his close attention to atmosphere, so important to the weird tale, is superb. Some of his tales, though, are so devoid of atmosphere and subtlety that they’re simply dull and slightly silly. A hint of tentacles and a glimpse of pinkish things are fine, but detailed anatomies are not. I much prefer such tales as “The Music of Erich Zann,” “Cool Air” and “The Color Out of Space” to those of the Cthulhu Mythos.

Q: While it may not always be evident in my own writings or every story I accept for publication, the philosophical views held by Lovecraft – cosmic indifferentism and the existential core of life’s meaninglessness, for example – is of special interest to me. Much of this is clearly present in his letters. Does his thinking and letter writing have any influence on you?

A: The theme of “Architect Eyes” may be said to be the utter meaninglessness of existence, but in general I do not think that Lovecraft’s metaphysics – what little I know of it – has had much influence on my writing.  His essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature” has been a great influence. When I first came upon a volume of H. P. Lovecraft’s tales – a chance discovery at some seedy second-hand bookstore – I had read very little horror literature. Notable exceptions were Poe and W. W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” but the rest had been so tedious and silly that I more or less avoided anything in that category. In many ways that cheap paperback volume proved to be a significant discovery. For it led me to the essay on supernatural horror which in turn led me to the classics of Gothic fiction and a whole range of authors that I had never heard about, Maupassant and Arthur Machen in particular.

Q: What differentiates your work from HPL’s?

A:  To the extent that one can generalize from the few and disparate tales I have penned, I suppose there are all sorts of differences, one being the approach to the unknown or the numinous experience. Is our oldest fear, as Lovecraft wrote, really the fear of the unknown? Certainly, the confrontation with the unknown can inspire fear, even terror, but also wonder and, perhaps, rapture …

Q: What else inspires you? What other authors – and anything else? (E.g. movies, comics, artwork?) Not to mention: Why are you inspired by this?

A: Some of my best ideas are born while I sleep. Some of my poorest ideas are inhabitants of dreams too, or they turn out to be so once I try to transmute them into something resembling literature. Art is inspiring in a whole other way. All great works of art can make the world vibrate with wonder, perhaps even open one’s perceptions to new aspects of that weird concept we call reality. Art is a highly addictive drug.

Q: Some people (writers, readers and critics alike) claim that a writer needs to find and have “a voice” of his/her own. Do you agree with this?

A: A distinctive voice or style in writing is undoubtedly important. It’s that which sets the individual author apart from the rest of the tribe. The frenetic ecstasy of Dostoyevsky, the precise prose of M. R. James, the cynicism of Shirley Jackson, the graceful style of Thomas Ligotti … one is never in doubt of the authorship. Theirs are honest voices, and honesty, as Dr Johnson said, is the one true standard of originality.

Q: Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities is an attempt to collect Lovecraftian and Cthulhu Mythos inspired stories that steer in a more urban direction than what we typically see in the sub-genre. How will you personally define “urban Cthulhu” and “urban horror”?

A: A rural setting has many advantages in that the further away we get from the city lights and noise – the greatest noise of all being consensus – the closer we get to the twilight zones of consciousness. But of course we can stumble upon – or seek out – such places in cities too. It seems to me that much urban horror or weird fiction show a predilection for the decay that we may find on the fringes of cities. Urban decay may be seen as both a metaphor for our contemporary culture but also as the natural choice of setting due to the liminal nature and uncanny atmosphere of such places thus resembling the horror or wonder that nature evokes.

Q: The 1970s and 1980s saw a boom in horror publications – Stephen King, Peter Straub and Dean R. Koontz being the most commercially prominent authors here – but then it all seemed to wane somewhat. How do you see the field, as a whole, today?

A:  That an author like King has enjoyed such great commercial success might be seen as indicative of a decline in literature and taste if not for the fact that there has always been published more rubbish than diamonds. If such contemporary authors as Mark Valentine, Quentin S. Crisp and Reggie Oliver are part of the “field,” it certainly looks as glorious as dawn. So far their fiction has – almost exclusively, I think – been published by small presses, a circumstance which surely says something significant about the publishing industry.

Q: For decades the Cthulhu Mythos sub-genre seemed to be mainly about writing pastiches, and they were (let’s be honest here) generally of a questionable quality. Has this, in your opinion, changed in recent years?

A: The only two authors that I know of who have been inspired by Lovecraft’s mythology are Ligotti and Caitlín R. Kiernan, and both write in a style uniquely their own.

Q: Do you have any work routine? Do you work day or night, for example? Lay out the plot line first, write whatever inspiration takes you, listen to a certain kind of music?

A: I get up early and pick up where I left off the day before. I never begin a new story without knowing exactly how it will end and how to get there. Along the way I correct errors and rewrite poor passages until I have finished the first draft. Then I rewrite the whole thing – or throw it away. Listening to music while I work – especially good music – would distract me. I prefer working in quietude. Writing “Architect Eyes”, though, I listened repeatedly to Outside, one of Bowie’s best albums. I’m still waiting for the follow up of the adventures of Nathan Adler …

Q: When did you find out you wanted to be a writer – and why weird fiction and horror?

A: By analogy, I began writing prose the same way as you begin smoking: you try one cigarette, just one, and before you know it you have a monkey on your back. Why is this particular monkey of mine a creature of nightmare? I suppose it has something to do with my frequent nightmares, bouts of melancholy, certain phobias and other tedious things … But it’s not all dark and morbid.

Q: Why short stories? After all, the novel seems to be the most commercially feasible product.

A: So far the short story has been the perfect format for the stories that I have desired to write.

Q: I am sure many readers would like to hear more of what else you have written and where they can find your work. Care to tell us a little about that?

A: Besides “Architect Eyes” there really is not much so speak about unless one is proficient in that exotic language know as Danish. If that is the case, there is a collection of short stories published by none other than H. Harksen Productions. (Editor’s Note: De underjordiske.)

Q: What can we expect from you in the future? Any specific stories or projects soon to be published? Perhaps something you’re working on right now that you want to hint at? ;)

A: There is a small collection of stories to appear soon from Ex Occidente Press. It is called Oriflammes and contains six stories of the strange, the wondrous and the uncanny.

Q: Do you have any advice for upcoming writers who want to pen weird stories?

A: No. I am still learning how to write, so I should really be the one taking advice.

Q: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Any last words of wisdom, warning or just plain weird you want to say?

A: Exodus, chapter twenty-five, verse eight – if anyone wondered about the significance of “zevul.”

(Editor’s End Note: Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities can also be purchased from Amazon.com and other online retailers.)