Book Shelf VII


This time I am highlighting my books with the name of one of Denmark’s most talented horror writers on the spine: Jonas Wilmann. The latest, Frygt-filerne (Eng. “The Fear Files”), is on my to-read list this year (yeah, it’s an exclusive list, in order to keep the amount down to a realistic level;-)). I look forward to reading this, his first short story collection. If you read Danish, and want to read one of today’s most talented and exciting authors this is one you can’t miss! And he is nested well, as you can see, between Norwegian writer Jan Wiese and F. Paul Wilson.

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It Happened At the World’s Fa… Okay, At Fantasticon!;-)

Me & Ellen Datlow. (Photo  taken by Klaus Æ. Mogensen, if I remember correctly.) 

Okay, brushing off the shock of hearing Ray Bradbury died here’s a quick and dirty blog post on what happened at the Fantasticon this year. It will be a little piece-meal and random-like, since I don’t remember all the details. (I knew I should have written things down, as the hours progressed.) And I also apologize in advance  for not mentioning all the wonderful people I met during this three-day trek in this national wonderland of the fantastic genres, Friday June 1 to Sunday June 3, 2012.

I spent most of the time in the dealers room selling books from my small press, H. Harksen Productions. With a fine result. I sold more than I’d hoped for, so that was a smashing success. Wonderful — thanks to all the buyers and supporters of both my Danish and English publications. Okay, strictly speaking I didn’t spend most of the time selling books, but I was present, just in case someone was interested. Which happened frequently:-) And when I wasn’t making actual sales I was engaged in wonderful conversations and debates. So all was lively and engaging, just as one would hope for at such an event.

As I mentioned in an earlier post I was on the programme two times: Saturday in a panel discussion about “the good short story” and Sunday where I were to speak on Cthulhu and the Apocalypse. Both had a fine attendance of people.

Ralan Conley (moderator), Henrik Sandbeck Harksen (me), H. H. Løyche, Ellen Datlow and Knud Larn. (Photo by Lars Kramhøft)

The discussion was lively (at least from my point of view; I hope the others feel the same) and with intelligent and thoughtful approaches to the theme. One of the things we ended up agreeing on was that it is important for a good short story (in itself a rather broad concept, difficult to define) to have a voice. (Not necessarily the same as the story having a character.) And that element is important in order for the story to somehow grab our attention — as editors as well as readers in general. I can’t remember if we all agreed on this, but at least Ellen Datlow and I ended up agreeing that when reading a themed anthology it is more important to find the qualities in the actual story being read at the time than to go searching for the overarching theme in the story. She’d experienced such critique from time to time with e.g. her Poe anthology (“The stories aren’t written like Poe” etc.) and I pointed out the danger of looking (exclusively) for tentacles in Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities. (No, they are not written the way Lovecraft would write the stories — and no, there are not tentacles flying around on every page. It’s much more subtle than that, and therefore much more horrible.)

Also, incidentally, Ray Bradbury was mentioned by Ellen Datlow — as unjustly being considered by many as a “light writer.” Now that he’s dead, hopefully this will be corrected.

Ellen Datlow signing books to me.

Speaking of Ellen Datlow… What a kind, charming and insightful lady. As you know from an earlier blog post I was absolutely dazzled just thinking about meeting her in person. And reality — wow — it’s hard to describe, but it really was wonderful meeting her. And she was kind enough to sign — even inscribe — three books of hers that I’d brought along. Can’t read half of what’s she’s written to me but it’s still immensely cool;-)

It’s strange, really, how meeting persons whom I strongly admire for what they do can affect me. It happened years back when I was interviewing the Scottish singer Fish, and it happened when I met Ellen Datlow. It was difficult for me to approach her (when not in the panel discussion, where conversation went smoothly enough) and ask her if she’d mind signing the books. And it wasn’t until the last hours Sunday that I dared asking if we could have a picture of us together. (Which, as you can see, she readily agreed to do.)

Strange — but probably a healthy thing. Shows that my ego isn’t too much in the clouds;-)

Author Lars Kramhøft signing a copy of Grufulde mørke ( Vol. 3). First time ever he signed a book.

I was told that my talk on Cthulhu and the Apocalypse Sunday went well. Good to know. I was a little nervous before starting, but I managed to say most the things I wanted to say — in a fairly coherent manner;-) It was probably the most boring PowerPoint show ever, but at least that was on purpose: I only used it to show the headlines of the topics I wanted to discuss. No more, no less. For the curious, who weren’t there: My focal point was two possible understandings of “the apocalypse,” applied to Lovecraftian fiction and the Derleth Mythos part of the fiction.

Could have said much more but you can only say so much in 50 minutes;-)

The only other part of the programme I attended (as audience) was “The fairy tale in modern fiction” with Ellen Datlow, Nicolas Barbano and Lars Ahn Pedersen (moderator). It was very interesting, and I’m glad that I joined Sarah Fürst, Lars Kramhøft and Thomas Winther to see this (among many others, of course, but they were the ones I talked the moment they wanted to go see it). It’s a topic I don’t know much about, and wouldn’t normally check out. But it was good expanding my horizon. (Isn’t it always?)

Me, my daughter, a stormtrooper, Lord Vader and a feisty tusken rider;-)

The Sandbeck Harksen Family: Our daughter, My, my wife Hanne — and me. (Photo by Anja, if I remember correctly.)

Like I said, it was so invigorating and delightful being at the Fantasticon this year. Much of it due to the fact that I got to talk to so many wonderful people. And even my little family joined the party for a few hours (Saturday), bringing along Anja, one of my wife’s good friends.

One of the greatest small press publishers and weird fiction writers in Denmark today: Nikolaj Højberg, Forlaget KANDOR.

I’d like to thank all who I talked to, it was great. Here’s to you guys (apologies to anyone omitted; and not including the people from the panel discussion): Sarah Fürst (always wonderful, stimulating company), Lars Kramhøft (finally!), Martin Wangsgaard Jürgensen (small package soon on its way!), A. Silvestri, Lars Ahn Pedersen, Bjarke Schjødt Larsen (as yourself this year;-)), Sandra Schwartz (great finally meeting you), Thomas Winther (always nice catching up), Martin Schjönning (short but good), Mads Peder Lau Pedersen (also very short — but at least I finally met you in person!), Nikolaj Højberg (that idea — I think we’re onto something cool, Nikolaj), Lykke, Patrick Leis (originator of the coolest low-budget version of Hitchcock’s The Birds;-)), Michael Kamp (hey, I actually sold some copies of your book as well), Jonas Wilmann (always a joy, Jonas)… and the Fantasticon Team. (Uh, here I must mention Flemming R. P. Rasch, who invited me to the event, and Spritt Schapiro — thanks for the coolest HPL t-shirt on Earth!)

Random picture from the Saturday’s Banquet.

Tired publisher, author, dilettante etc. On the train back home.

See you again next year.

I Am Also A Writer (Inspiration & the Muse – Part II)

I’ll start this blog doing what all the blogging experts say you shouldn’t do: Say what I won’t be talking about in the post.

This is not about the latest publication from my small press, Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities (Next Post #1); it’s not about the next book, which will see publication next week, the John Mayer hardcover Hex Code and Others (Next Post #2); it’s not about the cutting-edge August Derleth treatise by the Derleth scholar John D. Haefele, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos: Origins of the Cthulhu Mythos (Next Post #3); not about the major website(s) rewamp in the works either (Next Post #4)… And not about my participation in Fantasticon 2012 next weekend. (Next Post #… hm, 1a?)

No, this is about me. More precisely — the fact that I also write. I love being publisher, editor, book designer etc., etc., no doubt about it. But I also love writing, cooking up stories, creating worlds and (hopefully) horrors. And I need to prioritize that part of my creative nature. All too often I put it aside, and while there are good reasons for it (e.g. publishing books with marvelous tales by amazingly talented writers from around the world, not to mention the beautiful illustrations by the just as amazingly talented artists) it is not reason enough, in terms of me staying sane.

I am also a writer. Sometimes I seem to forget it… except for in the wee hours, and in the recesses of my dreaming.

Time to change it. Not at the expense of the H. Harksen Productions projects already in the pipeline (near or far ahead), but to give me the energy to keep it all up. Writing is not only important for my well-being, it is also an important fuel for everything else I do. And yes, there is the so-called “everyday life”, with family, other work etc., but that must never stop me from being me. All me. What good is life if you don’t live? And writing is a major essense of me. And we’re not talking about scholarly kind of writing here (something that generally flows a-ok as it is), we’re talking writing fiction.

First thing I am going to do here is finish a couple of short stories and submit to the proper venues. One in English and one in Danish. The Danish one may not happen, though, since the story may not meet the specific demands for the anthology I have in mind. If I think I can find a proper way to address the demands, without changing too much to the story I want to write, I may give it a go. Otherwise it’ll simply be a good exercise for me. That alone is worth a lot, that’s for sure.

The major writing project, however, is my decision to work on a long story. “Ah, a novel,” you say. If only. You see — it’s much larger, more epic, if you will, than that. So I am going from writing short stories now and then to writing — get ready for it — a tetralogy. Yes, you got it right: A 4-volume Series. Why settle for the lesser evil, eh?;-)

This one, though, is in my native language, Danish. Decided not to make things too difficult, hehe. But International readers of this blog can still read on. My musings about this project are of a somewhat general nature and not particularly on Danish stuff. (Which is why I decided to write this post in English in the first place.)

I think the Series title will be Zombie Zane. “Ooooh,” you say (some with light in your eyes, others more like moaning in despair), “another zombie story.” Well, yes and no. There is a reason for that overarching title, of course (if it stays), but on the whole zombies (or, well, “zombie-like creatures”) will not take up much of the actual page contents.

That out of the way I will not say more about the storyline as such, and instead talk a little about my sources of inspiration — giving you a weird kaleidoscopic impression of what to expect — and some words on “the proper length of a story.” The latter being a sort of reflection on what’s been said on blogs recently by two Danish horror writers, Jonas Wilmann and Michael Kamp.

I am sure there’s more subtle inspirations for this story, and the various elements in it, but here’s a list of authors and works I know have inspired me:

  • H. P. Lovecraft (okay, that one probably surprised no one who knows me the least bit, or who has followed my blog updates just a little; but in this case the inspiration may not be in a way you’d expect, though;-))
  • Thomas Ligotti
  • Marcel Proust (yes, that Proust — more specifically the first book of In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way)
  • Steven Hall (The Raw Shark Texts)
  • Neil Gaiman (American Gods, Neverwhere)
  • Gene Wolfe (The Book of the New Sun)
  • Stephen King (inspiring in so many ways)
  • Cormac McCarthy (The Road — although so far it’s only the movie that has inspired me; the book will soon be read, though)

A bizarre blend of material? Sure — the Muses work in mysterious ways, to be sure:-) And you just gotta go with the flow.

Whether I can pull off the idea I have, well, that’s up to the readers to decide. All I know is that I really like the idea and that it just won’t let go, and that I must follow the imperative urge to write it.

“Why 4 volumes?” you now ask, perplexed. Well, in essense because realized not long ago that the idea I had had grown too big, too multi-facetted to work within one volume alone (especially given the ideas I have for — hm, how to say this without giving away spoilers? — layout and the various “voices” in the structure of the storyline). And the idea of writing a trilogy, well, that’s just too mundane nowadays, isn’t it?;-) And Gene Wolfe’s brilliant, if not exactly easily accessible, The Book of the New Sun is in 4 volumes… a huge source of inspiration in many ways… So a tip of the hat to that one in such a way just seemed appropriate somehow.

Could I have it all in 1 single, huge, volume? Sure — but why, if this actually is the most suitable idea? Also, this way I get to have deadlines with fairly frequent intervals, so I have a goal close by, and not in some distant future (several years ahead). That’s probably more motivational for me. And the readers get to start reading the story soon — and perhaps come with suggestions to what they’d like in the future books? Could be fun and cool to do the latter, somehow have people being more actively involved in the process, suggesting ideas, likes and dislikes etc. Of course I already have the framework in place, but that doesn’t mean I can’t add stuff along the way.

That’s assuming there will be any readers, of course. But there’s no need to worry about that now.

Is it the right length for the story? Yes, I think so. Very often when talk focuses on length of a story it’s a critique of the length, the story is too long. A critique often aimed at Stephen King’s novels, for instance. I know what the point is, and I also agree that there’s a certain upper (as well as lower) limit to what a story can bear, in terms of “optimizing” the efficiency of the story, so to speak. But this boils down to what one thinks is the “optimized” story. I know that opinions vary but a tendency seems to be that if there’s “too much” that doesn’t directly move the story onward (often in terms of “action” in some way) then this “fat” ought to have been removed, trimming the story to a more suitable and “effective” size.

That is all well and fine, but what if an important element of the story is the involvement of the cast of characters and their relations? What if the idea is to show a more complete, “well-rounded” complexity than the main (superficial?) plotline? Well, in such cases it would be a shame to use this literary equivalence to Ockham’s Razor, by trimming away the fat — for that “fat” is important to the shapes of this particular story. And what, to some, may appear to be unnecessary is in fact necessary for this particular tale to unfold properly. There is a reason that John Fante’s stories are very different than, say, Gene Wolfe’s, and yet they can be said to have written equally wonderful stories and great works of art.

There’s much more meat to this discussion, of course, but I think I’ll let this be the final word. For now, at any rate. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Oh. A P.S.: Here’s the individual titles in the Series;-)

  • Mørkets troubadour (eng. The Bard of Darkness)
  • Drømmenes arkitekt (eng. The Architect of Dreams)
  • Skyggernes magister (eng. The Magister of Shadows)
  • Tågernes fyrste (The Lord of Mists)