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 ( Vol. 2).

Pete kindly replied to my questions.



Q: You have a story in Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities ( 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!