Hvem eller hvad er Dr. Wunderkammer?

wunderkammer-fb-picDen opmærksomme læser vil have bemærket, at jeg i det sidste blogindlæg omtalte Dr. Wunderkammer som en kvinde. Når nu man – som jeg – har nærstuderet det tekstmateriale og de vidneudsagn der er adgang til, så må jeg dog tilstå, at mit valg skyldes nogle indikationer snarere end fakta. Jeg beklager, hvis man har fået indtryk af større sikkerhed.

Ser I – der er tider, hvor materialet indikerer at Dr. Wunderkammer er en kvinde (D og R i “Dr.” siges endda ind imellem at referere til en kvindes for- og mellemnavn snarere end den ærværdige Dr.-titel), men til andre tider tales der om en “han”, altså et hankønsvæsen. Men muligheden for en tredje vej er dog til stede. Der er ikke enighed. Andre tekster igen antyder – og her får jeg kuldegysninger, det tilstår jeg (og jeg er ellers hårdfør) – at der kan være tale om … et det eller en den.

wunderkammer_front_small1016Dr. Wunderkammer er med andre ord fortsat hyldet ind i mystikkens mørke slør. Men måske en afklaring er i horisonten? Jeg hører en særegen himmelsk musik i det fjerne. Lad os sammen undersøge mysteriet. Du kan følge med på Dr. Wunderkammers Facebookprofil (bliv ven her) og bestille Dr. Wunderkammers oversættelser her. Husk: Tilbuddet udløber på torsdag, d. 27. oktober.

 

Udvalgte fraklip nr. 10:

For afvekslingens skyld bør man hellere modsige end gentage sig selv – når vi nu alligevel ikke kan afholde munden fra at løbe med tom vind og støj.

Strømsholts DR. WUNDERKAMMERS OVERSÆTTELSER

wunderkammer_front_small1016Så udkommer Thomas Strømsholts novellesamling snart. Det bliver en super flot hardcover. Vi er ved at finde på et særligt godt tilbud, for virkelig at fejre begivenheden. So stay tuned.

Indtil da (jeg undskylder på forhånd hvis nedenstående tekst er lidt sammenpresset, jeg ved ikke lige hvad WP har gang i):

Forvandlinger, ja, det var dr. Wunderkammers besættelse, det tema der forbandt hendes ellers vildt forskellige værker, og måske også det motiv der på forunderlig vis – på den mest mærkværdige og ligefrem groteske måde – kædede skaberen sammen med værket.
En komponist lukker sig inde i orglet og skaber et nyt værk. I skoven skifter årstiderne, folk forandrer sig og bliver dræbt.
I byen følger Orfeus en sommerfugl gennem Undergrunden, en bogsamlers drøm bliver et mareridt, pæne mennesker får ubudne gæster, en arkitekt tegner sin afsindige vision, og bag Københavns facade anes konturerne af andre byer…
”Thomas Strømsholts debutnoveller er ualmindeligt stærke og vellykkede”
– Leonora Christina Skov i Weekendavisen om debutsamlingen, De Underjordiske.

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.)

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)