Today’s feature is a real treat – an interview with contemporary horror writer Ted E Grau. Ted was actually meant to be the classic British author H Russell Wakefield (1888 – 1964), which has probably surprised both of them. However, the talented Mr Grau responded so promptly to our outline that we decided to hold the party right here, right now. Remember listeners, carpe diem (that’s Latin for “my fish has just expired”).
For any newcomers, T.E. Grau is an author of dark fiction whose work has been featured in dozens of anthologies, magazines, literary journals, and audio platforms. The Nameless Dark, his first collection of short fiction, was released in July of 2015 by Lethe Press. The novelette They Don’t Come Home Anymore will be published in 2016 through This Is Horror. Grau lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.
greydogtales is not a review site. That style doesn’t sit well on our ancient shoulders. We merely highlight weird writing and art that takes our fancy, and wonder at the madness of longdogs and lurchers. It is fair to say, though, that The Nameless Dark is a damned fine collection, and would be very high on our recommended list if we actually had one.
Let’s stop writing and start listening…
greydog: Hello and welcome to greydogtales, Ted.
tg: Greetings to you and your grey dogs, John, and thank you for having me. I quite enjoyed the hike up the windswept hills. Beautiful country up here round Yorkshire.
greydog: You’re even more welcome, saying nice things like that. So, we first noticed your work in 2013, and then in the 2014 anthology World War Cthulhu, with your story White Feather. Oddly enough, that anthology also included Willie Meikle and the illustrator M Wayne Miller, both of whom were interviewed here earlier this autumn. Now you have your own collection out. Have you been building up to this for a while?
tg: I have, probably longer than most. The Nameless Dark – A Collection, covers all of my short story writing starting from when I first switched from screenwriting to prose in early 2010, including my first completed piece, “Transmission,” up to my most recent (“Expat”) at the time I signed the contract with Lethe Press. Even though the earlier pieces are, well, “early” in my growth as a fiction writer, and almost exclusively deal with Mythos/Lovecraftian elements (as writing Lovecraftian fiction for anthologies was my entré into prose), I felt like it was important to include my earliest stuff all the way to the present in this first collection, if only for myself and my family and personal posterity. Basically, this collection shows my beginnings in 2010 up to 2015, covering a five year span of writing, reading, and thinking about what I wanted to say and do as a writer of dark fiction.
greydog: A number of your protagonists do not exactly make it out in one piece, either mentally or physically. Do you see yourself as a bleak writer, or is this just realism within the context of story-telling?
tg: I suppose I see myself as a writer of bleak tales, as I’m drawn to and fascinated by bleak subject matter. Abandoned places, natural decay, weathering, geologic grind, socio/psychopaths, dead enders, tragedy, a cold, uncaring universe. I do have a shade of the pessimist in my soul, locked arm in arm with a detached curiosity for the ghoulish, and a love of the dark and arcane. That Germania gene. Somehow I balance this with a pretty cheery attitude on the day-to-day. I blame my wife and daughter for that.
Happy endings in stories work, and have a time and place (take any movie about sports, for example), but I think ending on a downer or with some horrific realization, either large or small, is more interesting, and more indicative of reality.
greydog: Outside of the more obvious weird and horror writers, have you been influenced by authors in other genres, classical or contemporary?
tg: Hunter S. Thompson is one, for sure. I was referred to him by someone who noted that our styles were similar back when I was writing a snotty humor/satire column in a local arts paper in Omaha, Nebraska while in college. When I read Thompson, I realized how much of a novice I was, but also that I wasn’t alone in the vast stylistic universe. I read a lot of Thomas Wolfe, Kerouac, Kesey, Farina, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and the Beats around that time, as well, and I can still feel that particular rhythm in a lot of my writing. I have to pull it back sometimes, or chop it up, as when I really get going, some of my phrasing sounds like bad Beatnik pastiche. A lot of my rewriting is getting out of my own way, either based on my influences or just my natural verbal inclinations.
I cut my reading teeth in high fantasy and sword and sorcery in late 70’s and early 80’s, so I’m sure there’s a lot of that swirling around in the broth, as well. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard (and several Conan rip-off novels), David Eddings, Lloyd Alexander, R.A. Salvatore, Hickman & Weis, etc. Dungeons & Dragons has probably exerted the largest influence on my imagination over anything else.
In a contemporary sense, I’ve seen a bit of an influence from Laird Barron in some of my writing, and maybe some Richard Gavin, as I very much resonate with their work and masterful atmospherics and creation of authentic dread out of the seemingly mundane. I don’t find much horror fiction scary, but they are two writers (as well as Thomas Ligotti, T.E.D. Klein, Adam Nevill, Michael Marshall Smith, and a few other) who can genuinely give me the creeps. I’m so thankful for that.
Lawrence Block has influenced me in terms of the cleanness and leanness of his prose, saying what needs to be said without a whole song and dance. I heavily read Cormac McCarthy after most of my stories in the collection were finished, but I’m sure he’ll seep into my newer tales, as no one does brutality like he does. He’s a one-punch KO boxer. The Tyson of American letters.
Flannery O’Connor isn’t so much an influence as an example of an unattainable goal, in terms of her style and tone – a little humorous, a whole lot dark, possessing a keen insight into people that I don’t currently possess, and probably never will, no matter how much I listen and observe. She’s a monster in the best sense of the word. The finest writer I’ve ever read.
greydog: Thompson and Burroughs were particular favourites of ours when we had more time to read. And, please take this as a compliment, we do see fragments of Thomas Ligotti in the collection, albeit with less dense prose and a lighter touch. Are you a fan of his work?
tg: I absolutely am. For my money, he’s our greatest living (semi-working) horror writer (T.E.D. Klein would be just below, if he still wrote). Very few write like he does, or see the world in a similar way. He’s sacrificed so much for this rare world-view, and we readers are the fortunate heirs. He’s what horror fiction should be.
As for density of prose (one of my ongoing battles with myself), I would be willing to weigh out my stuff against Ligotti’s on a specially calibrated Adjective and Adverb Scale. I think the shade of my purple would stack up pretty well against his. But as I continue this journey, I hope to see him claim eventual victory. He writes lavender better than I do anyway…
greydog: Maybe we need to dust off our scales again. Going back to The Nameless Dark for a moment, some writers build on recurring locales or characters in their work. Your collection is notable for the incredibly wide range of settings and individuals we encounter. Do you have any plans for writing more ‘serial’ fiction, in the sense of connected tales?
tg: Oh yes. I have big plans for Salt Creek, Nebraska, which made its first public appearance in “The Mission.” A collection in the coming years of all prairie and rural horror tales will feature several Salt Creek tales, as will at least one novel and possibly two that I have rolling around in my head.
Another story, “MonoChrome,” which was published late last year in the sadly overlooked but exceedingly excellent King in Yellow tribute anthology In The Court of the Yellow King, edited by Glynn Owen Barrass, is set in Los Angeles, and features a hard luck ex-homicide cop/ex-reporter/current below-the-line “fixer” and professional inebriate named Henry Ganz. I want to write more about this guy and his Los Angeles.
greydog: We look forward to Salt Creek especially, being suckers for the rural nightmare. Now, we might as well mention the eldritch, non-Euclidean elephant in the room at this point. There seems to be a Lovecraftian resurrection at the moment, not that your work is limited to that area. Is this sustainable, or do you feel that the base concepts will become mined out?
tg: I think the market will become saturated, or actually already has, so one would assume that most of the targeted readership will get bored with reading the same stuff reheated over and over again. But, it doesn’t seem to be abating at all, so what do I know?
The Lovecraftian omniverse is a fun zip code in which to live, so I get why it has remained popular all these years. Stories with a cosmic horror element that Lovecraft helped build up and codify for easier digestion will always have an appeal for curious stargazers and devoted heretics like me. A reality without benevolent gods, lacking a bearded grandfather looking out for your best interests, is a very interesting (appealing?) one to contemplate. For me, it was so different in POV than the Judeo Christian certitude in which I was raised that it knocked me back a couple of steps when I first stumbled across it. As a writer, I’m stepping out of Lovecraft Country for a while, but I know I’ll be back, as in many ways it’ll always be home, even with all its dysfunction and shame.
greydog: Strangely enough, one of our favourite stories in the collection is the un-Lovecraftian Beer & Worms, an incredibly simple insight into human thinking (or inhuman thinking). Is this an isolated incident, or do you like enjoy twisting everyday life like that?
tg: I do love taking the normal and safe and twisting it into something terrible. Hitchcock was a master at doing this, and devoted to “ruining” the safety of normalcy by injecting horror into the commonplace. If I was better with plotting, you’d see more of these stories from me. Even so, I’ll be doing more of this in the coming years, especially in some of the crime/Noir fiction I’m slowly constructing. It’s fun to jump back and forth from the supernatural to the natural.
greydog: We hear that you have a new deal with This Is Horror. Are you allowed to say anything about what might be coming out from that source?
tg: I signed a publishing deal with This Is Horror a few months back, and I’m thrilled to be working with such a quality outfit that has published some of my favorite writers. The contract specifies one new work (in the novella range, but certainly allows for something longer), with an understanding that makes it a bit open-ended, meaning I could publish two or more works with them in 2016. The trust they’ve shown in my writing is humbling, and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to release my work with This Is Horror in the coming year.
The two pieces I’m batting around right now are They Don’t Come Home Anymore, which is my take on obsession, hero worship, legend vs. fact, and vampire culture; and a still-untitled piece set in a particularly American Doomsday Seed Vault constructed on domestic soil (patriotic Yanks certainly can’t trust those cunning, soft-bellied Euros with the future of all plant life on earth!). A third work is much more undefined and definitely Big W Weird that will be my thinly veiled tribute to Thomas Ligotti.
greydog: Clearly you are anathema to our own dark fiction ambitions. That’s why we like featuring illustrators and audio clips – we don’t do much of that sort of thing. So we’ll give you a last chance to say something nice about longdogs, lurchers and sighthounds. It might just get you off the hook.
tg: As a guy who grew up with labradors and weimaraners and pheasant-brush spaniels and all sort of farm dog mutts, who’s only seen a whippet on Los Angeles sidewalks and greyhounds in commercials, I’m afraid anything I say about longdogs will only disappoint you, so I’ll just leave this parcel of soup bones on the table and see myself out. The hills are calling for the journey back down to the sea.
greydog: Bones are always good, as long as they’re someone else’s. Many thanks, Ted E Grau.
tg: Huge thanks to you, John. It’s been fun.
Apart from his fiction, it’s always well worth dropping in on Ted’s website/blog, cosmicomicon, which can be found here:
And The Nameless Dark can be picked up now. We don’t think you’ll be disappointed (UK link on sidebar)
Coming up on greydogtales: More longdog photos, good news again from the Spiritualist Telegraph, the art of Danish folk-lore and many other related weirdnesses…