“Too much modern weird seems to me to lack the full courage of its premises or imaginative convictions…” Yes, today’s mega-interview is thought-provoking and a bit different. If you like your weird fiction to be on the safe side, you might not want to go much further. We’re interviewing Paul St.John Mackintosh, a writer who challenged us, not because of his poetic prose but because of his themes and content. So we’ll explain.
We all know the Seven Deadly Sins – Sleepy, Happy, Dopey, Incontinence, Edward, Coveting Thy Neighbour’s Toaster, and Doc. The Severn Deadly Sins, on the other hand, revolve around the Severn Valley in Englishland, home of many of Ramsey Campbell’s wonderful stories – of which more later. So today we have seven weird publications to mention. For the art and comics enthusiasts, we also feature fabulous art reveals from Brandon Barrows’ new graphic story collection, Mythos: Lovecraft’s Worlds.
We’ll start by being arty. Brandon Barrows, comics and story writer, is incidentally a fellow revivalist for Carnacki the Ghost Finder, as in his collection The Castle-Town Tragedy, which we’ve mentioned here before – three brand-new tales of William Hope Hodgson’s occult detective.
Please note that art throughout is copyrighted by their creators/publishers. Click for larger images.
Whilst not abandoning Hope Hodgson, he’s recently gone all H P Lovecraft again, with his collection Mythos: Lovecraft’s Worlds. In this production Brandon and artist Hugo Petrus adapt eight of Lovecraft’s stories to the comic format. Many of these are lesser-known and some have never before been adapted to comics, such as The Curse of Yig and Ibid (a rare humour story!).
We asked Brandon for a detailed breakdown of his inspiration and process when writing Mythos, bearing in mind the complexity of the creative process. After considerable thought, and numerous deeply philosophical emails between us, he said:
“Please buy my books and comics. I need money.”
When we showed him our cattle-prod, he did manage to add:
“Lovecraft has been an important influence on my horror and fantasy writing, but ‘Cthulhu’ is all most people seem to know about him. With Mythos, I want to shine a light on some of the more obscure pieces of his work and hopefully show folks that it’s worth exploring beyond the evil gods and tentacles.”
Which seems quite reasonable, so we settled for that.
Mythos is coming out in November from Caliber, a US comics publisher who had a strong bent towards creator-owned works in the 1990s. A couple of years ago they came back with a range of new publications, focusing primarily on original graphic novels and collections of previously released material.
They say of the book: “H P Lovecraft is known for tales of terror, cosmic abominations and his most famous creation, the dreaded Cthulhu! However, the true breadth and depth spanned by Lovecraft, who also penned stories of fantasy, science fiction and even humor. Go beyond tentacles and evil gods to explore the mythos of Lovecraft.”
Browsing around Caliber, we were also interested in having a look at this one if we ever get a free moment, our second book for today – Dark Detective: Chimera. (W) Christopher Sequeira (A) Philip Cornell, J. Scherpenhuizen (CA) Dave Elsey
“The brilliant Sherlock Holmes is plunged into a case of Gothic terror as he investigates horrific deaths that suggest an improbable monster. Only Holmes can stop the shadows from swallowing London and only his single remaining fried can stop the shadows from swallowing him. Collecting the acclaimed Black House series.”
No idea what it’s lik,e but it sounds tempting. Below is Caliber’s site for more news and details. They say US shipping addresses only, so we suppose you have to use other vendors outside of that when you’ve found something you like:
You can find Brandon himself here:
Brichester District News
On to the other plot. According to the BBC, who know stuff like this, the River Severn, famous for its tidal bore, is the longest river in Britain. It flows for around 220 miles from its source in the Welsh Cambrian mountains, through Shropshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, finally emptying into the Bristol Channel.
The name ‘Severn’ may be derived from Sabrina (or Hafren in Welsh) and is based on the mythical story of a nymph who drowned in the river. In John Milton’s Comus, a mask (masque) presented at Ludlow Castle in 1634, an angelic spirit conjures the nymph from the waters of the river to come to a lady’s aid:
“There is a gentle Nymph not farr from hence,
That with moist curb sways the smooth Severn stream,
Sabrina is her name, a Virgin pure…”
Proper trivia that you don’t get in pub quizzes: Comus was presented before the Earl of Bridgewater. Harking back to Brandon Barrows’ Castle-Town Tragedy title, the delivery of Comus was related to the Castlehaven Tragedy. The Earl of Bridgewater’s brother-in-law, the Earl of Castlehaven, had been convicted of rape and sodomy, and executed three years earlier.
Comus was all about chastity, and may have been a deliberate commentary to promote an air of cleanliness about the rest of the line. Whatever Castlehaven did or did not do, some said that his wife Lady Castlehaven was no better that he was, an attendant calling her “the wickedest woman in the world”.
The Severn has assisted and thwarted armies, disrupted life during floods and freezes, as well as being an important trade artery from medieval times. And it’s here that we find Brother Cadfael of Shrewsbury Abbey, and his… no, sorry, it’s here that we find the setting for many of Ramsey Campbell’s English horror stories. His Severn Valley is a counterpart to the twisted and benighted New England of H P Lovecraft.
The imaginary Cotswolds town of Temphill, Campbell’s first version of a Massachusetts setting, appeared in “The Church in High Street”, which was also his first published story (Dark Mind, Dark Heart anthology, Arkham 1962). In it, Campbell refers to
“worship of trans-spatial beings still practiced in such towns as Camside, Brichester, Severnford, Goatswood, and Temphill…”.
These names, especially that of Brichester, recur in a number of superb tales of horror. Campbell mentions, of this development of unique English locales:
“(August) Derleth told me to abandon my attempts to set my work in Massachusetts…”
Introduction to Cold Print (1984)
So he began this dark geography very early in his career, laying out a range of towns and other locations around the Severn. Goatswood itself is perhaps the caprine or hircine (ie. goat-like) equivalent of H P Lovecraft’s Innsmouth. Hooded figures with a goatish appearance (and whiff, we assume) lurk in its dodgy streets, and they worship, not surprisingly, The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, Shub-Niggurath.
“The close-set dull-red roofs, the narrow streets, the encircling forests—all seemed somehow furtive.”
The Moon Lens
Bearing this in mind, our third related book today is an older one. It’s a collection drawing on this background and released by Chaosium in 1995 – Made in Goatswood: A Celebration of Ramsey Campbell. New tales of horror set in the Goatswood region of the Severn Valley, edited by Scott David Aniolowski.
Which celebratory note brings us neatly to the fourth, fifth and sixth books for today, headline releases coming from Dark Regions Press – The Children of Gla’aki, Return of the Old Ones, and You, Human.
Gla’aki himself is a Great Old One. He first appeared in Campbell’s story “The Inhabitant of the Lake” in 1964, only two years after he had started laying out his fictional geography. As unnecessary re-writing is contary to our nature, here’s the main Wiki outline (though they call him Glaaki?):
“He dwells within a lake in the Severn Valley near Brichester, in England (though he has been reported in other lakes around the world). Glaaki has the appearance of an enormous slug covered with metallic spines which, despite their appearance, are actually organic growths. Glaaki can also extrude tentacles with eyes at the tips, allowing him to peer from underneath the water. It is believed that he came to the Earth imprisoned inside a meteor. When the meteor landed, Glaaki was freed, and the impact created the lake where he now resides.
“Glaaki is an ancient and wise creature with vast knowledge of the other beings which are active in Britain’s Severn River Valley.”
And this year Gla’aki is back, in…
The Children of Gla’aki: A Tribute to Ramsey Campbell’s Great Old One
Edited by Brian M. Sammons & Glynn Owen Barrass
“There is a lake in the Severn Valley, near a town called Brichester. It is an eerie, haunted place, both by day and by night. Night especially though, is a time when no one in their right mind would go anywhere near it, or those oddly deserted houses that stand, albeit barely, on the edge of the shore. But why? What is it that moves about in that lake, a thing that makes its presence known with three sinister glowing eyes that protrude from beneath the water? Some believe it is an entity that traveled to Earth, many thousands of years ago inside a hollow meteor.
“Ramsey Campbell, Nick Mamatas, John Goodrich, Robert M. Price, Pete Rawlik, W.H. Pugmire, Edward Morris, Scott R. Jones, Thana Niveau, William Meikle, Orrin Grey, Tom Lynch, Konstantine Paradias, Josh Reynolds, Lee Clarke Zumpe, and Tim Waggoner – these are The Children of Gla’aki.”
We can proudly say that John Linwood Grant, the greydog himself, has appeared in print with some of these folk, so they must be good. Hmm, maybe that didn’t come out quite as modest as it should have done. Oh well, at least they’re very tolerant and kind to confused Yorkshiremen who wander into their playground…
Their second offering is…
Return of the Old Ones: Apocalyptic Lovecraftian Horror
Edited by Brian M. Sammons
“Featuring all new stories of cosmic and Lovecraftian horror based pre, during and post the apocalypse by authors Jeffrey Thomas, Lucy A. Snyder, Tim Curran, Pete Rawlik, Sam Gafford, Christine Morgan, Cody Goodfellow and many more, Return of the Old Ones: Apocalyptic Lovecraftian Horror continues the Dark Regions Weird Fiction line with 19 original stories from some of the best authors in Lovecraftian horror and weird fiction today.
“Return of the Old Ones will only have one signed edition (deluxe slipcased hardcover) and will feature a similar stamp design to the popular Cthulhu head stamping featured on the World War Cthulhu hardcovers. It will be signed by all contributors and will feature the original color cover artwork by Vincent Chong as color end sheets.”
Notice a nod there to Sam Gafford, our co-editor for Occult Detective Quarterly. Good stuff. The third book from Dark Regions is a break from Lovecraftian and neo-Lovecraftian burrowing, so we thought it ought to be mentioned for variety:
You, Human: An Anthology of Dark Science Fiction
Edited by Michael Bailey
“Bram Stoker Award winning editor Michael Bailey brings sci-fi back to Dark Regions Press with heart in this genre-bending anthology of dark science fiction and poetry: You, Human. With fiction illustrated beautifully throughout by world-renowned artist L.A. Spooner, with poetry and spot illustrations supplied by the always-impressive Orion Zangara, and with an incredible introduction on humanism by New York Times bestselling author F. Paul Wilson, You, Human is a triumphant return to science fiction for Dark Regions Press, initiating the new Dark Regions Sci-Fi imprint as book #1.”
Although we might cover one or two in more depth at some point, at the moment there’s an Indiegogo campaign running to support these three, including pre-order options. The power of Gla’aki compels you to check out their rewards!
Bad Wallpaper Weirdness
“The 1970s were a transitional decade. The hangover from the swinging 1960s, and before the plastic, neon decadence of the 1980s. Fueled by war, popular protests, flagrant abuse of power, environmental shocks, and economic discord, the 1970s were a synthesis of paranoia and partying in a rapidly changing world. Blood, Sweat, and Fears: Horror Inspired by the 1970s takes readers back to that diabolical decade, in an unforgettable collection of ten stories that conjure the nightmare of the 70s for a new generation.”
Our last book is the usual shameless mention of something which earned us a silver sixpence. Published on 22nd August by Nosetouch Press, the anthology Blood Sweat and Fears includes a tale by the greydog, another one of his dark revenant stories.
In A Stranger Passing Through, the nameless or unnameable anti-hero is in New York in the bright, hard days of 1974, and finds himself, after some other unpleasantries along the way, having to have a few words with The Families.
Edited by David T Neal and Christine M Scott, the anthology features Daniel S. Duvall, David J. Fielding, Clare Francis, John Linwood Grant, Matthew Kresal, Tiffany Morris, Gregory L. Norris, Trent Roman, John McCallum Swain and Eric Turowski
Here’s the opening to A Stranger Passing Through – and no, goodness gosh, it genuinely is nothing to do with vampires, but you’ll have to read the full story to find out what’s really going on:
“So a man walks into a bar and he says to the bartender…
“But this was rural Minnesota, the visitor was no more human than I was, and afterwards, no-one was laughing.
“1974. A no-horse town, with a single bar off the dirt road that passed for a main street. I’d gone into the bar for a quiet beer and had settled down nicely enough, so I was none too pleased when I smelled one of my own kind on the dry night air.
“I tensed, and a few minutes later the door flapped open. There he was, a tall heap of dust and flapping leather. He’d chosen the long-rider look – even had the broad-brimmed hat and the stained red kerchief round his neck.
“Some farmer snorted a kind of laugh, muttered to his companion, a bleach-blonde lady of the night. The guy behind the bar, a big man with tattoos down his arms, glanced at the “we don’t want no trouble here” shotgun on the rack behind him.
” ‘Help you, Mistuh?’ he asked.
“The visitor smiled, but he was looking straight at me…”
The anthology includes nine other great tales of seventies horror, and you can find out more about Nosetouch and the contributing authors via Nosetouch’s website:
The book Blood Sweat and Fears can be picked up here:
And them there’s seven weird books for you, dear listener, Land o’ Goshen and pickle our grits, or whatever people say these days. We’ll be back in two or three of your days with something entirely different, we imagine…
Welcome, dear listener, to our final Lovecraftian feature of the weekend. Today we mark the recent release of The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, with exclusive commentary by authors John Langan and Michael Wehunt on their contributions to the anthology. And after that we bump into Bobby Derie’s Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos, more of a reference book but no less interesting. Both books might be called post-Lovecraftian, but in quite different ways. Oh, and we drift off into HPL and Hamlet later, but that sort of thing happens here…
We’ll start with Paula Guran’s new anthology of recent fiction by a terrific range of writers – The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu. Paula is senior editor for Prime Books, and edits the annual Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror series as well as other anthologies. Her work has won many plaudits – she has twice received the Stoker Award and twice been nominated for a World Fantasy Award. In her introduction to TMBoC, she says:
What I term “New Lovecraftian” fiction seldom attempts (although it does occasionally) to emulate Lovecraft’s writing style – a style that’s faults are, admittedly, many. Written with a fresh appreciation of Lovecraft’s universe, its writers do not imitate; they re-imagine, re-energise, renew, re-set, respond to, and make Lovecraftian concepts relevant for today.
New Lovecraftian fiction sometimes simply has fun with what are now well-established genre themes. Authors often intentionally subvert Lovecraft’s bigotry while still paying tribute to his imagination.
Yesterday we featured Dreams from the Witch House, edited by Lynne Jamneck (see voices from the witch house), and three of the writers from Witch House are also represented in this collection – Caitlin R Kiernan, Lois H Gresh and Amanda Downum – alongside other familiar names such as Laird Barron, Michael Shea and W H Pugmire.
Long-time listeners will know that this isn’t a review site, though we admit that we are enjoying the anthology. We thought that rather than rattle on, it would be more interesting to hear from a couple of TMBoC’s contributing authors. We were therefore delighted when John Langan and Michael Wehunt kindly agreed to say something about their stories especially for greydogtales. Both, purely by coincidence, reference music, and both give insights into the tales they spun for the collection. Here they are, for your listening pleasure…
Notes on “Outside the House, Watching for Crows”
I wrote roughly the first half of this story six or seven years ago, possibly a little more. Up until this point, I had studiously avoided writing about adolescents, in large part because so much horror fiction focuses on this age bracket (think Something Wicked This Way Comes, It, Shadowland, A Boy’s Life, Ghoul, etc.) and I wanted to distinguish myself by doing something different. But I had an idea I would write about music, about a cassette tape whose songs come to inhabit the listener’s consciousness. And for reasons I’m not certain of (my twenty year high school reunion, which I’d skipped but was still in my mind?), when I started writing the story, it was about the tail end of my junior year in high school. I powered through the story until the narrator attends his junior prom, and read most of what I’d written at that year’s Readercon—after which, my friends who’d come to the reading asked me what came next. I told them I didn’t know: I was still writing the story.
In fact, I would be writing it for the next half a dozen or so years. Beyond what I’d already set down, I couldn’t work out where the story was supposed to go. I knew the weird tape the narrator was listening to, the music that had become his personal soundtrack, was going to lead him somewhere, but I could not work out what that destination was. So I pretty much left the story to percolate, returning to it every now and again to tweak a word choice or sentence, waiting for the Fornits to work out the rest of it.
This didn’t happen until I finished my second novel, The Fisherman. There’s a long story in the middle of the book—a novella, really—which involves some pretty far out stuff, including an old, frightening city on the shore of a black ocean, whose police force is not quite human. In the process of writing several other stories (including “Bor Urus,” “Mother of Stone,” and “Shadow and Thirst”) I had found connections between them and the material of the novel, particularly the neighborhood of that city.
When Paula Guran invited me to contribute something to the Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, I thought about that unfinished story and realized that the answer to its second half lay in The Fisherman and those other stories connected to it. There’s no need to have read any of the other stuff to appreciate this story (honestly, even if you do go through it all, it’s as much a series of hints and suggestions as it is anything more coherent at this point). What that material did was provide me a way to reflect on the desire—so strong in adolescence, but not absent from the rest of life—to break out of this existence, to find a way to something else, something different, something (maybe) more. Sometimes, the answer to the challenge you’re facing now comes from something you haven’t done yet.
Notes on “I Do Not Count the Hours”
When Paula Guran asked me to write a story for The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, I fainted. When I came to, I started thinking that I wanted to use music as the backbone of what would become “I Do Not Count the Hours.” I also wanted some creepy video footage, and I wanted to use a main character Lovecraft would not have approved of.
I wanted this latter because Lovecraft’s protagonists tended to be academics and men of science. Invariably white men. Ada Blount is a young black woman, short and petite, a deeply sheltered and codependent woman. And the story is entirely about her. She plays music, and in light of Lovecraft’s views, I thought the viola was a good choice, as it is the forgotten sibling of the famous violin and cello. But it features in nearly every string quartet, and it is just as essential.
My intent was not truly to address Lovecraft’s racism in this story. Others have done so wonderfully. I really only tried to give a voice to someone he would not have given a voice to. Otherwise the story just wants to be creepy as hell with a little beauty in the darkness. Several months later I would write a brother to “I Do Not Count the Hours.” It’s called “Drawing God” and it will be published late this year, I believe. There are slight parallels between the two stories, a sort of shared world, but in this newer story Lovecraft himself is brought more into the foreground, and I’m not particularly kind to him. Writing this second story exorcised my thoughts on the matter.
But he did give us a deeper fascination with the cosmos and our granular role in it, and for all his unforgivable warts as a man, his fiction does live on for a good reason. I don’t think cosmic horror will ever truly leave my bloodstream, and he’s an indelible part of it.
As for Ada, she has had a hard life. A singular life, really, and the way she grew as a character and as a woman fascinated me as I wrote the story. She was raised to be weak, and she grows strong. She goes deep into the woods and does what no one else can. Erich Zann wouldn’t have been up for it. Let that be a lesson to Howard’s ghost.
Meanwhile, I still get a little shiver when I think of those video files on that computer…
We thank our talented contributors, and point out that you can pick up TMBoC right now:
As we said on Friday we’re not academics, but we do like to delve deeper sometimes. A number of times we have turned to a very helpful fellow, Bobby Derie, for original material on HPL and his circle, including extracts from correspondence, so it seemed appropriate to mention his book Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014) in this medley about Lovecraftian books.
We’ll quote from the blurb, because it seems silly to rewrite it:
In this pioneering study, Bobby Derie has presented an objective and scholarly analysis of the significant uses of love, gender, and sex in the work of H. P. Lovecraft and some of his leading disciples. Along the way, Derie treats such matters as Lovecraft’s relations with his wife, portrayals of women in his work, and the question of homosexuality in his life and work. Many Lovecraft stories are subject to detailed examination for their sexual implications.
There are two aspects of this substantial and fascinating book which we like in particular. Firstly, it’s meticulously researched and draws on genuine source materials as opposed to collating third-hand opinions just to stir things up. Secondly, it’s not an attempt to create one of those cod-psychological studies of Lovecraft – you can make your own mind up about what Derie presents, and there’s plenty of thought-provoking stuff.
Examination of Lovecraft and his work in such a context does raise some fascinating issues, so it’s helpful that this book includes further material on sex, gender and the mythos in the works of later writers. It’s an absorbing read.
Back here in our less-than-expert kennel, we find it hard to get away from the fact that Lovecraft had an unhinged bee in his bonnet about inter-breeding and miscegenation. It’s as if he feared the Outside breeding its way in to ‘normal’ society and ‘decent’ people – through blasphemous couplings with entities (The Dunwich Horror), through incestuous practice (The Lurking Fear) and through miscegenation (The Shadow over Innsmouth and so many more). The frequency of ‘unholy’ unions, be they with gods, Deep Ones or Polynesians, in his stories, and his dislike of what he saw of as mixed-race peoples, seems in retrospect to be less a matter of prejudice and more an obsessional issue.
It’s easy to despise his views on some areas of life (and right to reject them). We have a professional background in psychiatric treatment and research, and we’re inclined to say that he could have done with help. Some of the prejudices expressed in his letters, had they come out in a clinic session, would have been ones to mark for lengthy exploration with the old gent. We’re not great proponents of needless therapy, but at times we feel sorry that he had to carry such thoughts in his head for so long.
But that’s only our passing pennyworth. Our other worry is that lurchers, who only exist because of a particular aspect of cross-breeding discovered centuries ago, may not have won his approval.
Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos by Bobby Derie is available here:
As one of our many asides, we were moaning about the ditherings of Hamlet during our interview with SFF writer John Guy Collick (see a colossus of mars)a few weeks ago, and John commented at the time:
Watch the Russian film of Hamlet directed by Grigori Kozintsev… That’s how the play should be done, not as an introspective study of a procrastinator with his head up his bum but as a vast, brooding Piranesi-esque Gothic tale of politics, double dealing and passion.
Bobby Derie subsequently provided us with something we’d not come across before – HPL’s views on the Prince of Denmark. We extract a section because, well, it’s interesting:
I find in Hamlet a rare, delicate, & nearly poetical mind, filled with the highest ideals and pervaded by the delusion (common to all gentle & retired characters unless their temperament be scientific & predominantly rational–which is seldom the case with poets) that all humanity approximates such a standard as he conceives. All at once, however, man’s inherent baseness becomes apparent to him under the most soul-trying circumstances; exhibiting itself not in the remote world, but in the person of his mother & his uncle, in such a manner as to convince him most suddenly & most vitally that there is no good in humanity.
Well may he question life, when the perfidiousness of those whom he has reason to believe the best of mortals, is so cruelly obtruded on his notice. Having had his theories of life founded on mediaeval and pragmatical conceptions, he now loses that subtle something which impels persons to go on in the ordinary currents; specifically, he loses the conviction that the usual motives & pursuits of life are more than empty illusions or trifles. Now this is not “madness”–I am sick of hearing fools & superficial criticks prate about “Hamlet’s madness”. It is really a distressing glimpse of absolute truth. But in effect, it approximates mental derangement. Reason is unimpaired, but Hamlet no longer sees any occasion for its use.
Whether or not this is also a reflection of Lovecraft’s view of himself, and of some of his protagonists, we leave to cleverer people than us poor mutts.
Finally, as the I that is greydog supposedly runs this site, it would be foolish not to mention that I also have what Paula Guran might call a “New Lovecraft” story in the recently-released Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis. This is a cracking collection of dark and thought-provoking tales about the real nature of those who accept the Mythos into their hearts, edited by the great Scott R Jones – writer, editor and overlord of Martian Migraine Press.
Cthulhusattva is currently riding high in the Horror Anthology charts, and I don’t think that you’ll be disappointed by it – but I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Over the next week or so, we’re back to lurchers, weird art, Victoriana, Dracula and lots of things which are decidedly non-Lovecraftian…
Greetings, dear listener. This weekend you find us in a rather post-Lovecraftian mood, and poking a stick at two new collections – Dreams from the Witch House, edited by Lynne Jamneck, and The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, edited by Paula Guran. Plus we’ll throw in a few H P Lovecraft-related musings and extras as well. We start with a terrific interview with the talented Lynne Jamneck, exploring her own writing, her editing role, themes in LGBT fiction and other topics.
As we’ll be talking about Lynne’s work during the interview, we’ll just say that she’s of a Kiwi disposition, based in New Zealand, with many writing and editing credits to her name. She has been nominated for the Sir Julius Vogel and Lambda awards, and holds an MA in English Literature from Auckland University. She also shares our interest in home-brewing, but we couldn’t quite fit that in. Let us meander in her direction…
greydog: Lynne, welcome to greydogtales and our relentless efforts to weird the world wide web. It’s no secret that we contacted you initially to talk about your role in putting together Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror, but like many of our guests, you have a number of strings to your bow. Let’s start with your editing work and move on from there.
When you first took on the editing role for Witch House, what did Lovecraftian mean to you?
lynne: “Lovecraftian” to me has always been more about mood than about Cthulhu, or Azathoth or any of the deities that populate the mythos. It’s about the uncanny, weirdness and cosmicism – the things we hide from behind ignorance and reality TV.
greydog: Did that change after going through the submissions and making your final selection?
lynne: My focus for Witch House was always on stories that somehow reflected the elements I mention above. I wasn’t specifically looking for stories that included deliberate reproductions of Lovecraft’s geographies or characters. Those spaces and places are definitely in the final stories, but in versions that feel more contemporary and therefore, more removed from imaginary Arkham.
greydog: Did you have a specific ‘feel’ for Witch House, beyond the core premise of Lovecraftian tales written by women? By that we mean was there a mood or tone that you wanted the anthology to convey?
lynne: I wanted stories to instil unease, and not necessarily as the result of violent, external elements. I think elements that involve apprehension toward humanity are sometimes neglected in Lovecraft’s work – in his case, arguably most explicitly conveyed in his views about other races and ethnicities. We don’t always need tentacles to be scared. Sometimes all we need to do is look in the mirror. That’ll drive a good lot of us insane.
greydog: Absolutely. How do you feel about being an editor? You’ve edited before (Periphery, for example). Is it a nerve-wracking job, or one where you sit back, kick off your boots and simply enjoy being able to browse other people’s work rather than have to write?
lynne: It’s exciting in the sense that you never know when you’re going to discover an absolute gem of a story. But it’s frustrating in the sense that you have a finite number of stories that you can include in the final book. There have been instances where it took me days to decide between two stories because they were both equally good. That’s not a fun task.
greydog: You’re also in the editor’s seat with S.T. Joshi for this year’s Gothic Lovecraft anthology, is that right?
lynne: Yes. That was a great experience, working with someone whose knowledge about Lovecraft is so vast and who has a well-trained eye for the uncanny. S.T. and I have slightly different tendencies when considering stories, but we also appreciate many of the same elements, sometimes just rendered a little differently. We ended up picking a great collection of stories.
greydog: Witch House is out now, with a great line-up that includes Elizabeth Bear, Joyce Carol Oates, Caitlin Kiernan and Storm Constantine. We’ll link to where people can get a copy at the end of this interview, but we want to talk about you and writing. Looking at your back catalogue, your range is fairly wide – crime, queer fairies and Lovecraftian horror, for example. Enjoyable diversity, an artist in search of a spiritual home, or part of a grand plan?
lynne: Those phases can likely be linked to whatever I found myself asking questions about at different times in my life. Or what I felt a specific kinship with. I read a lot of crime in my late teens and early twenties, and possibly considered writing crime as being a challenge. Then I discovered that as a writer, plot comes secondary to me. It’s characters all the way down!
As to fairies, in my experience, many queers go throw a period in their life where it almost feels that their sexuality defines them, whether they want it to or not. Fantasy lends itself well to addressing such issues because you’re working in a genre where the Other is often celebrated. This phase didn’t last long for me, though; heterosexuality doesn’t define anyone, so why should being queer define me? Like we say in New Zealand, yeah-nah, bro.
One thing that has always been part of my writing process is the act of asking questions. Questioning is an act of defiance; all of us can be rebels this way. We must never stop questioning –not ourselves, not other people, and not those who effect control over us. It also lies at the heart if what the Lovecraftian addresses. Specifically, it asks uncomfortable questions, some of which we don’t have answers for. But that’s okay. Sometimes you don‘t need an answer. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask the question anyway. I think maybe I’ve found my home here in this cosmic pool. Its comfortably uncomfortable.
greydog: We frequently slide back to writing Edwardian supernatural tales, despite our best intentions. Do you have a favourite genre or thematic area that you like to explore in your fiction?
lynne: I have a fascination with snow. Especially snow-covered landscapes. It’s not the Edwardians for me but the Romantics. William Blake wrote about how snow – something that is usually associated with purity and cleanness – can serve as a cover up for heinous crimes and other terrible things. Wordsworth and Coleridge’s depictions of Nature are the stuff of beauty and nightmares all at once. We often move through life without paying attention to the environments in which we exist, without being present. I’m interested in that moment when we see for the first time, are completely unravelled by it, and how we return from it. Or not.
greydog: Earlier this year we spoke to Cameron Trost, an Australian writer/editor who’s active in the Australian Horror Writers Association. Is there a similar scene in New Zealand?
lynne: The NZ speculative fiction scene is fairly small, but nonetheless very active. We have AuContraire each year, a week-end convention for speculative writers and other artists. This year will be its 37th iteration, so it has been going for a while! One thing I’d like to see is larger NZ publishers taking a more active role in promoting local speculative writers.
greydog: This site rambles on about gender and sexuality in fiction from time to time, so we thought we’d try a few thoughts out on you while you were here. For starters, we read somewhere that while you do write queer fiction, you don’t describe yourself as a queer writer. Is that because you see it as a limiting description?
lynne: This tags on from what I mentioned previously. I’m a writer who happens to be queer. That doesn’t mean I want to connect only with other queer readers. In that way it is limiting, but only in the sense that it confines me to writing within very specific parameters, which doesn’t challenge me as a writer.
greydog: In the past six months, we ourselves have written protagonists who included a teenage boy who liked wearing properly ironed skirts, a lesbian couple facing Lovecraftian horror and an Edwardian Virginian questioning both his sensual and sexual nature. None of these were written to make a point, except that people are interesting. Are we finally at a stage, do you think, where LGBT characters in fiction can just be characters like anyone else, rather than political symbols?
lynne: That’s the way I write queer characters but… I don’t know. Maybe not? It’s still very political to a lot of people and I completely understand that, because people are still being killed just for being gay. How can we not make that an issue? On the other hand, as a writer, I don’t want to talk about the same thing every time I write a story because I’d feel like I’m repeating myself.
greydog: We enjoyed your 2005 interview with Nicola Griffith, a terrific writer. We knew Nicola and met her a few times before she and her partner Kelly moved to America. In the interview, she said “There’s a limit to how many Coming Out stories—or Tales of Oppression, or whinges about How My Family Done Me Wrong Because I’m Different—can be interesting.” Do you think it’s true that many of these tropes or themes are getting worn out?
lynne: Yes. It’s difficult to explain this and I always seem to upset people with this answer. I’m not trying to devalue anyone’s experience of a horrible situation they may have lived through as a result of being queer. While we have made significant social and political strides in terms of gay rights, people still turn their backs on their kids for being gay; queers are still murdered simply for being. Nonetheless, I’d rather read a book with queer characters doing all the same things straight characters do in “normal” stories, experiencing the same problems (because we do) and having to navigate solutions to these everyday issues. Because we live everyday lives. I find that a lot more empowering.
The news and other media are always going to tell us about the horrible things people do to other people. I believe books can act as a countermeasure, a form of transcendent inspiration that moves beyond what the rest of the world constantly throws at us. The connection between reader and word is extremely powerful and it can work both ways, I believe. It can either empower or disenfranchise.
greydog: We’re reminded of our interview with Richard Mansfield last year. He and his partner Daniel make LGBT films (and some great supernatural adaptations as well). He said: “I think we were both feeling frustrated with gay cinema. There seemed to be very few releases with something different to say. Personally I wanted to make a film where the couple were secure and happy with themselves. I wanted to show a snap-shot in the lives of two men that had found a place to be themselves… Lots of gay cinema deals with self-loathing or homophobia but I wanted any negative influence to be external…”
Right, we’re running out of space. We always like to give our listeners a trail or two to follow. Who stands out for you (as a reader) amongst contemporary writers – genre or otherwise?
lynne: What a question! So many. But I’ll try. I adore Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and I cannot wait for the sequel. The Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer – like an extremely weird version of LOST but with a better ending. I just finished Jacqueline Baker’s The Broken Hours: A Novel of H.P. Lovecraft which was haunting and beautifully written. I’m currently reading All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, and it’s magical. Not to mention all the terrific short fiction out there – I highly recommend The Year’s Best Weird Fiction anthologies published by Undertow Publications.
greydog: What will we see from you in the next year or so? More fiction, more editing, or do you have quite different endeavours planned?
lynne: I’m currently working on a proposal for a collection of stories that will centre on the weirdness of nature. Because the natural world is STRANGE. I’ve been working on a novel for longer than I care to remember but I have some nefarious plans in that area that will hopefully come to fruition soon. The forthcoming Black Wings of Cthulhu V features my story “In Bloom”. And there’s some more stories in my skull banging away looking for an exit. Who needs sleep, right?
greydog: Lynne, thank you – it’s been a pleasure to meet you, and we look forward to your future works.
You can find out more about Lynne and her work on her own blog, here:
And you can also dig into Dreams from the Witch House, which is available now, and sample the many interesting tales within.
Later tomorrow – The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos, and a few extra snippets.