Tuesday, May 26, 2015
It is with a heavy heart that I type this brief announcement: I have stepped down as Fiction Editor of Strange Aeons magazine.
It wasn't an easy decision, but after thinking long and hard, and weighing my professional and personal priorities with my integrity as an editor, I decided it was in everyone's best interest that I leave the magazine as Fiction Editor.
With the release of my first collection, I will be eyeing larger and more ambitious writing projects going forward, and to do them (and my family) justice, I need to focus all of my energy and available free time on writing fiction. After two years, I have found that my path in fiction doesn't necessarily include editing, although I am incredibly proud of the stories I was able to secure for the last eight consecutive issues of the magazine (exactly half of the run), which included the phenomenal, all-fiction Special Lost Issue #13 released in conjunction with the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival Portland 2014.
Through it all, I've been lucky enough to have worked with some of the best writers - and people - working in dark and speculative fiction today, and want to thank them all for being so gracious, patient, and obscenely talented. Also, working with Kelly Young, Rick Tillman, Nick "The Hat" Gucker, and the rest of the SA crew has been a wonderful experience, and I cherish the friendships created while doing the work, and especially while not.
Strange Aeons will move on, as the brand is strong and the logo just a few years shy of being iconic, but can only do so properly with a Fiction Editor. As such, if you or anyone you know has an interest in the position, and feel up to the task, please contact Kelly Young at email@example.com. Bring your A, B, and C game. Make me proud. Make the magazine great, better than I could have ever done. It deserves it. You do, too.
And so, I wish Strange Aeons and its lovely readers a sweet, sad goodnight. For now.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
TC Review & Interview: The Professor Is In - John Langan teaches and terrifies with second fiction collection THE WIDE CARNIVOROUS SKY & OTHER MONSTROUS GEOGRAPHIES
|Cover artwork by Santiago Caruso|
Every insular creative scene has its personalities, its movers, its stars. It's like the cover of Tiger Beat magazine. Or a boy band... covered by Tiger Beat magazine. These personalities have labels: The Shy One. The Flirt. The Bad Boy. The Heartthrob.
As mainstream publishing occasionally—and grudgingly—accepts while also further insulates indie press Weird fiction (not an easy bit of cultural gymnastics), a brighter light is being shed on the personalities in this scene, as well. The boy (and girl) band members. While others can hash out who is who and whom is whom, I have my own labels. And in this issue of Tiger Beat, John Langan is The Professor. Or, The General. But mostly The Professor.
You see, Langan actually is a professor in his workaday life, and seems to be naturally suited to the proud vocation, as he can't help but teach us—his students—with each and every one of his layered, finely crafted, incredibly interesting stories of horror and the strange, which are on full display in his latest collection of short fiction The Wide, Carnivorous Sky & Other Monstrous Geographies (Hippocampus Press, 2013), a title I muchly dig, splayed over a cover featuring art by the renowned Santiago Caruso.
When I write "teach" I don't mean "preach," as his work is not preachy in the slightest. Didactic, yes, but I enjoy didacticism, as I'm a huge fan of stylistic writing, unique voice, and guiding subtext. In the case of The Professor, the teaching comes from his deconstruction of the supernatural tale, tearing it down, showing us the parts, and then building it back up in front of our wide, wondrous eyes. There is a deftness in the way he plays with tropes, a celebration, and even at times a wink and a nudge to the reader while he turns them inside out, shining light on a new angle of something you thought you already knew. This is an expert at work within genres, archetypes, and iconic monsters that he clearly loves, and his enthusiasm for the subject matter is infectious, which translates to the reader as a good professor does with an interesting, or even a complex, lecture. One gets the sense of learning while being entertained, or moved, or horrified. That is not an easy thing to do. Hence, my clumsy metaphor above. Hence, Langan as The Professor.
The analogy is set from the first pages of The Wide, Carnivorous Sky & Other Monstrous Geographies, as "Kids" takes place in a classroom, a setting to which we are returned two stories later, in "Technicolor." The former is a piece of flash fiction written from a viewpoint you'd imagine is quite common amongst teachers forced to deal with the smallish nightmares birthed into the world and hustled off into the local schools, while the former is a mesmerizing rumination on Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death," in which the reader gets a glimpse of what The Professor might sound like when standing in front of his assembled students. An arcane history of Poe's famed short story and the details surrounding its creation are reeled off by an instructor in loving homage and as a bit of slight of hand, while something else is happening just outside the schoolhouse. This is a dazzling info-load couched inside historical and dark literary fiction, wrapped up by a Weird mystery tale. EAP would be incredibly proud.
In between these two pieces is the meaty, strong-limbed "How The Day Runs Down," which is a zombie tale unlike any I've previously read. Not that I've read a lot of zombie fiction, mind, but I love the theatrical, shattered fourth wall way that Langan structures this tale, and inside of this armature of a narrated stage play, his overall rendering of a zombie apocalypse touches on the often random nature of total societal collapse and those who will survive. Terrifying, heartbreaking, and boldly experimental, this is—as are other stories in this collection—a piece of meta horror fiction that evidences a writer who can look at stories in three, and sometimes four, dimensions when deciding how to tell them.
The titular tale arrives next, shifting gears into an action-packed Gulf War story detailing the decimation of an American platoon by something that swoops down from the sky, told in both the present and through flashback, as the survivors prepare to deal out some payback against a cosmic bloodsucker that apparently hasn't read any of the old, tired vampire yarns about what it can and cannot do, and when. This is grim, grisly, totally fun stuff, reminiscent of the Pulps, and reflects Langan's love of comic books and Robert E. Howard.
"City of the Dog"—in addition to being a story about canine monsters prowling the more ancient parts of 1990's Albany—struck me as a powerful tale about cowardice, and other emotional failings of selfish people trying to hold onto relationships, and ultimately save themselves, at a very selfish age. "The Revel" deals with similar beasts, but in a much different way, walking the reader through the commonplace steps of your classic werewolf film while not telling that same reader that the camera was never rolling.
At this point in the collection, we've seen the author give the Langan Treatment to zombies, werewolves, and vampires, while also discussing, in detail, the work of Edgar Allan Poe. Not many writers can jump strata with such a deft, confident touch, or with such a sense of enjoyment.
Veering left is "The Shallows," which shows us backyard Lovecraftian horror drenched in the bizarre. Dread and loneliness and grief and madness now live in a world that has changed forever, while something incredibly large is moving out in the water... The story had what can only be described as a psychedelic effect on me while reading it, as I imagined the scene dotted with colorful strobes and that weird soundtrack music of early 70's experimental film while the narrator puttered around his property and garden, accompanied by his trusty crab.
"June, 1987. Hitchhiking. Mr. Norris." is a quick, jarring tale of a serial killer answering to a higher calling, intent on making a spitfire named "Laird" his next victim, written for an online ribbing/tribute page to fellow horror author Laird Barron. The creep-out factor of the antagonist balances well with the reader cheering on the protagonist, who obviously knows what to do when he has a knife in his hands. Blades ain't just for slicing sled rope, bub.
Following the fiction, I loved the story notes section, as my inner fanboy geeks out on background and inspiration info related to stories I enjoy. The early edition ARC I received unfortunately didn't include the afterword by Laird Barron, as I'm always interested in Barron's take on writing in general, and specific writers in particular. His close friendship with Langan would have made for epic reading.
Last year I read Langan's previous collection, the outstanding Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters, and upon finishing The Wide Carnivorous Sky & Other Monstrous Geographies, I can see the growth of a writer in terms of narrative scope and guiding structure, in the confidence and audacity. One can sense newfound freedom in these nine tales. This is a powerhouse collection, large and deep, both familiar and innovative, at times heartrendingly tragic and other times giddy fun. John Langan is a writer working at the leading edge of horror fiction, tipping his hat in respect to the landmarks behind him while helping map the new terrain ahead. The genre is in good hands while The Professor is drawing up tomorrow's lesson plan.
Storytelling has always been present in my life, in one form or another. I can remember writing my version of King Kong vs. Godzilla when I was in first grade; admittedly, so I could draw the accompanying picture of the two monsters squaring off. When I got in trouble for something in the third grade (I can’t remember what), and my father told me he wanted me to write him a story as part of my punishment, I wrote my own version of the latest issue of Marvel’s Supervillain Team-Up, in which Dr. Doom fought the Red Skull on the moon. (As you might imagine, this was not what my father intended, but to his credit, he accepted it.) And when I was in the sixth grade, I wrote and read to my English class a Halloween story about a kid’s encounter with what was essentially one of Tolkien’s Nazgûl. I think that may have been my first inkling that I had some ability as a writer. I can remember the feel of the other students’ attention, the quiet that descended on the classroom as they listened to the story. My freshman year of high school, I would write a horror story that won first place in the school’s Christmas writing contest, and was published in the school newspaper, and I suppose I could point to that as the moment of clarity as regards to my writing future. But reading a story about a confrontation with a monster—a fundamentally literary monster—to my classmates may have been my first hint of the direction I’d eventually go.
Now that we've squared that away, what drew you to the darker side of the literary ledger?
That’s the question, isn't it? My childhood was punctuated by moments of trauma, from getting a sliver of metal in my right eye when I was two and a half (which required surgery) to my father suffering a pair of heart attacks pretty much consecutively when I was thirteen. That awareness of the contingency of experience, of the way in which the bottom can drop out from under you without warning, combined with a deeply Catholic upbringing, in which the supernatural, both good and bad, was an active part of existence. If you look closely enough at any writer’s life, I suppose their choice of material will seem overdetermined. Certainly, I’m aware of that in my case.
In a similar vein, who (or what) do you consider an influential force on your writing? What writers do you most (professionally) admire, and read the most?
I can’t overestimate the importance comic books had for me as a developing reader and writer, especially the Marvel titles of the sixties, seventies, and eighties. Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman, Doug Moench, Chris Claremont, all played an important role in the formation of my writing, as did Robert E. Howard, to whose fiction I was led by Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian adaptation, and Lloyd Alexander and J.R.R. Tolkien. The writer who first galvanized me, however, who made me feel as if I’d been touched by the Hand of God and set on a mission to do this same thing, was Stephen King, whose Christine I read in paperback the fall of my freshman year of high school, and from which I never looked back. In the three-plus decades since then, I've encountered a few writers who have had a similar impact: Peter Straub, Flannery O’Connor, Faulkner, Henry James, more recently Dickens and Robert Browning. These are the names that come to mind when I think about the writers I’d like to re-read once again. Heaven knows, a number of my contemporaries have evoked a similar response, too, from Laird Barron to Paul Tremblay to Glen Hirshberg to Michael Cisco.
What is your normal writing schedule?
I try to write every day, and to produce at least a page during those one or two hours. I used to get up early in the morning to do this; now, I stay up late into the night.
With echoes of the classroom throughout The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies, how has your work as a teacher effected your writing and the stories you choose to write?
“Teaching,” was the answer I gave to my parents when they asked me how I intended to support myself as an adult (since “writing” was never taken seriously as an option). Initially, I planned to teach high school English, but the English professors I had when I started my undergraduate education at SUNY New Paltz convinced me that I should pursue a degree in English, as opposed to education. To be fair, I didn't take much convincing. From the start, I was infatuated with college, and the prospect of remaining in that environment, to pursue literary study and to teach at that level, appealed to me more than I could say. When I began studying for my Master’s degree, also in English, also at New Paltz, I was accepted into the English Department’s teaching assistant program. I was assigned a section of Freshman Composition 1, which I took through fifteen weeks of writing the college-level essay. At the same time, I took a class in and attended weekly meetings dedicated to teaching at the college level. Still, talk about on the job training… Since then, I've taught pretty much every year, with the exception being two semesters I took off when I started taking classes at the CUNY Graduate Center, where I did work towards a Ph.D. I've moved from teaching freshman writing to teaching introductory literature classes, then to teaching more advanced literature classes, and then to teaching creative writing classes.
All of which is to say that teaching has been a crucial, even fundamental, part of my adult life. It’s allowed me to return to certain texts and writers over and over again, and to discuss how a novel such as Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier works with a room full of bright, motivated people. It’s helped me to remain aware of the possibilities of style and form available within fiction. The classroom and larger college campus have also served as settings for a number of my stories and my novel, House of Windows. There’s a great diversity of students and faculty at a public university like SUNY New Paltz, a great number of stories swirling around. There are the same conflicts of the human heart that you encounter in any community, any workplace. From the standpoint of setting and character, it’s fertile ground, one that permits me to write about pretty much any type of character or situation I choose.
What is your favorite story in this collection? What is the most personal to you?
It’s funny: I've never thought of the stories in this book in this way. There are things in each of them that I’m pleased with. I do have a soft spot for “The Revel,” because its earliest version marked my return to writing horror fiction after a long time away. I decided to pull out all the stops in writing it, to go for broke, to bring together everything I knew about writing fiction with everything I knew about horror narratives. I read it to my wife, then my girlfriend, when I visited her at Penn State, where she was completing her dissertation. It was the middle of a hot summer, and her apartment had no air conditioning and no TV. She would take breaks in her work, and I would read the next installment to her. I suppose it was part of our courtship. In any event, reflecting on that story returns me to the humid air, the voices of the golfers playing the golf course across the street, the clack and snap of the keyboard.
At 68 pages, the harrowing investigative piece, “Mother of Stone,” could have easily hopped and skipped its way to becoming a novel, and - with the general industry perception that "the novel is king" - I can see a temptation to pad it up a bit to release it as such. What led you to include it in a collection of short form fiction?
The simple answer is, I needed a new story for my collection, and I thought I’d finish this one, which had begun as my intended contribution to Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas’s Haunted Legends anthology. I knew it was going to be long, but it never occurred to me that it might be a novel—possibly because I was already thinking of it as a story. I have written things that have turned out longer than I expected—to be honest, this is true of pretty much every story I've finished. Even the short short pieces turn out longer than I’d planned. And this is how I came to write my first novel, House of Windows, and my (as yet unpublished) second, The Fisherman. Both started as stories that continued to grow. So upon reflection, I suppose “Mother of Stone” could have grown to novel length, but it would have had to do so organically, which, as things turned out, it didn't.
You wink at the true location of several of your tales set in the fictional town of Huguenot. Does the historic - and in many ways, unprecedented - nature of the Huguenot settlement in New Paltz inform any of your work?
Initially, I wrote about New Paltz and its surroundings because I was following the lead of writers like Stephen King and especially Faulkner. I figured if William Faulkner could find sufficient material for a library shelf’s worth of novels and stories in what he called his postage stamp of soil, then so could I. When I began to read H.P. Lovecraft’s work in a more serious way, I recognized that he was employing setting in a similar fashion to Faulkner. For both writers, the evocation of their specific places helps to ground their narratives in a realistic context. This helps (I think) the events of each writer’s stories to seem more realistic, themselves, as if they've borrowed some of the belief their settings have evoked in the reader. At the very least, the settings give Faulkner and Lovecraft’s narratives additional resonance. For both writers, setting has a temporal dimension, too, and that sense of history really resonated with me. (My single favorite example of this kind of writing may be William Kennedy’s great novel, Ironweed.) It may be due to growing up in what, for the United States, is one of the older parts of the country. It may also be due to having parents who were from Scotland, and who took the family to visit our relatives there, several times, when I was a kid, and exposed me to a much older culture. And it may have something to do with having been raised Catholic, in a religious tradition with a long and storied history. Probably, it’s for all of these reasons, and more, besides. But even when I think back to my youthful readings of the Conan stories, I remember being fascinated by the conceit that these stories were set in an incredibly ancient version of our world (ditto Tolkien). So while I haven’t (yet) done much with the Huguenots per sé, the history of the region continues to be very important to me.
Keeping with geography, New England and areas north and east of New York City seem to have spawned a library full of supernatural fiction over the years, and most of your stories vibrate with the local topography. What is it about this aesthetically beautiful area that inspires such dark and haunted interpretations? The people? The land? The time period of European colonization?
You might answer, “All of the above.” At the risk of sliding too much into my professor voice: The northeast coast of the United States is among the first parts of the country to be densely settled by European colonists, which means it’s also among the first literary centers of the emerging country. It’s settled in part by people who have an especially grim and frightening view of the world, and who leave that viewpoint as a legacy to subsequent generations. It’s home to many of the writers who comprise the first great movement in American letters, the American Renaissance (which is the American version of the Romantic movement whose English exemplars included Coleridge and Keats). One of the greatest writers of that movement, Nathaniel Hawthorne, writes dozens of brilliant stories and a couple of novels that make use of the New England setting and bring it together with elements of the supernatural. Through an accident of geography, H.P. Lovecraft is born in roughly the same area about two generations after Hawthorne’s death. Of course, Lovecraft was born into a culture whose literature now included Hawthorne. In turn, when Stephen King was born in approximately the same region, he was born into a culture that now included Hawthorne and Lovecraft. And so on. I was born into a culture that included Hawthorne, Lovecraft, and King. There’s a kind of process of literary accretion at work, I suppose. Nor is this unique to the northeastern U.S., anymore: both the American south and California strike me as places that have developed their own considerable traditions of weird fiction.
Five years passed between the publication of your first collection, Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters, and The Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies. In an impatient age where some writers put out several books a year and readers often demand new material tomorrow, this can be considered a protracted period of time. Was this break between collections deliberate, and/or do you consider yourself a deliberate writer?
It’s a little of column A, a little of column B. I do like to take my time with my writing. When I decided to write seriously, in my mid-twenties, I set myself the goal of completing one page a day. Once I started publishing, I set myself the goal of completing one story per year, which I would have accepted for publication by the time last year’s story appeared. Both of these goals were intended to keep me writing by making the process of writing manageable. They also allowed me time to linger and labor over my fiction, which I did. After I completed my third published story, “Tutorial,” I began work on a story that would become my first novel, and the writing and re-writing of that narrative occupied me for the next several years, which removed from what little audience I’d attracted. I assumed House of Windows would be my first book because, as you pointed out above, there’s a great deal of emphasis placed on the novel as the pre-eminent length for fiction. It took longer to find a publisher for the book than I’d anticipated, however, and in the meantime, Prime Books had a slot open in their publication schedule for a new collection of fiction, and both Nick Mamatas and Paul Tremblay gave them my name as a possibility. The result of all this was that, just as I was starting to publish short fiction, again, I had two books appear within less than a year of one another, my collection and then my novel. After this, my story writing really started to pick up, as more and more invitations from more and more editors to be part of more and more anthologies found their way to my e-mail’s inbox. Somewhat quickly, I had enough stories for a second collection, which my agent sold in 2011 but which various delays on my part kept from appearing until 2013. As this was going on, I finally finished my second novel, which I’d put off completing in order to write stories. The novel proved to be as hard to sell to the big houses as its predecessor—once again, my agent received replies complimenting the literariness of the book, and explaining that this was why it wasn't going to be published. Which is not to say we've given up on it, only that it will be a bit longer still before it appears. And while I've been focused on selling my next novel, I've continued to write shorter fiction, with the result that I now have enough stories published and forthcoming for another two and a half collections. I’m hopeful the next collection will appear sometime in 2016, and then we’ll see about the others after that.
I guess the point of all this is, I've taken a somewhat scattershot approach to book publication. I’m hoping to be a bit more consistent in that regard, especially when it comes to novels. On the other hand, years after each of my books appeared, they continue to receive notice. There’s a tendency among a lot of writers, especially newer writers, to fret over the fate of their book if it doesn't make a big splash when it’s published, or if it doesn't make year’s best lists, or if it isn't nominated for the relevant awards. I know because I've worried over all these things. Yet my limited experience thus far assures me that, if you do good work, people will find their way to it. Maybe not as quickly as you’d like, but it will happen. So I try to remember that, and keep on writing.
Was the artwork from the always excellent Santiago Caruso commissioned for Carnivorous by Hippocampus, or was it selected by you?
Santiago’s cover was commissioned by me for the book with Hippocampus’s blessing. I owe my discovery of Santiago’s work to the folks at Night Shade Books, who tapped him to do the cover for House of Windows. This led me to his website, which featured a generous sampling of his stunning work. I loved the way his art reached back to someone like Goya, while also invoking the surrealists. I wanted very much to work with him again, so when Derrick Hussey asked me if I had any thoughts on cover artists for The Wide, Carnivorous Sky, I immediately thought of Santiago. To be honest, I think he knocked it out of the park with that cover.
How did you rope Laird Barron into writing the afterword for your collection?
I've been friends with Laird longer than pretty much any other writer I know. I’m pretty sure it was Gordon Van Gelder, who had published my first story in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, who told me to check out Laird’s first story in the magazine, which appeared the month after mine. Laird and I started corresponding, based on our mutual appreciation of and esteem for one another’s work, and have grown to be good friends since. Laird is the real deal. He’s immensely talented, and restless to take that talent in ever-new directions. He’s one of the hardest working artists I know, and that’s saying something. Predicting the literary future is a mug’s game, but I’ll play it anyway and say that I’m pretty sure Laird’s fiction is going to stand the test of time as well as that of anyone else writing now. So, naturally, I decided to piggyback on his success by asking him to write the afterword to my second collection. Some folks have no use for such things, but I've always loved them, for the glimpse they offer into the writers’ lives, for the insights they can bring to a reader’s understanding. I’ll admit, Laird took the piece in a direction I was not anticipating, much to my delight. But his friendship means the world to me, and I’m happy he was able to be part of the book.
What is your involvement with the Shirley Jackson Awards, and explain to those who might not know how the awards were launched, and why?
With Brett Cox, JoAnn Cox, Sarah Langan, and Paul Tremblay, I’m one of the founders of the Shirley Jackson Awards. To describe the awards, I could do worse than quote the official webpage:
“In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards have been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.
“The Shirley Jackson Awards are voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors. The awards are given for the best work published in the preceding calendar year in the following categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology.”
Basically, the awards were founded because there’s a tremendous amount of great dark fiction being published at all lengths, and it seemed appropriate to us to have another means of recognizing it. The nominations lists are up at the award website, and you could do worse than read through their contents.
As part of our fundraising efforts for the award, we've also partnered with the LitReactor website the last few years to put together a four-week, online class in writing horror fiction. It’s taught by four instructors—one per week—each of whom tackles a different aspect of writing horror.
What is you take on the modern state of horror and Weird fiction? Do you think that a proliferation of avenues to print publication - in additional to the rise of self and electronic publishing - has helped or harmed contemporary speculative fiction?
It seems to me that, in many ways, horror fiction is doing as well as it ever has, maybe even better. You have writers such as King, Straub, and Campbell, continuing to produce vibrant and exciting work. You have writers such as Laird Barron, Sarah Langan, and Paul Tremblay, who are starting to come into their own as powers in the field. And you have newer writers, such as Mike Griffin, Usman Tanveer Malik, and Molly Tanzer, who are making a real splash. It also seems a bit easier for work in the horror field to be taken seriously by a wider audience. A lot of the fiction that has been important to the field is being brought back into print by presses like Valancourt and Tough Times. Due to the internet, it’s easier for writers working in the field to communicate with one another. If there’s one downside to the present moment, it’s that the major publishers remain cautious about publishing horror fiction in the way that they used to. From that perspective, the smaller houses have played an important role in allowing writers such as Chesya Burke, Michael Cisco, and Livia Llewelyn to find a home for their work.
I count you as one of the most inspirational figures working in Weird fiction today, as I always feel positive and fired up to create after hearing or reading one of your interviews. Not to put you on the spot, but any words of advice for writers, both new and veteran? Any advice for readers?
For writers, I’d offer two pieces of advice: write, and practice patience. Specifically, work on your fiction. If you’re doing anything else—posting on Twitter, posting on Facebook, blogging, engaging in lengthy online debates—you aren't writing fiction. Fiction takes time, and is challenging. Social media is quick, and is easy. The temptation to indulge one at the expense of the other is obvious. Resist it. You don’t want to fall into the trap of confusing having an active presence on social media with having a writing career. What’s more, it takes a while, sometimes a long while, for a story or book to find its audience. (I talked about this above.) Don’t lose heart. Keep writing. Eventually, good work finds its way to its audience.
For readers, I’d ask you to continue to try to read writers who are new to you. I know that money can be tight, and there’s already so much to read by writers you know and like, but once in a while, take a chance on something unfamiliar. And whatever you read, when you like something, please let other people know. For me as a writer, there’s still no bigger thrill than seeing folks recommending my work to other readers.
What's next for John Langan? What new projects do you have cooking, or possibly on the horizon?
My third collection will be forthcoming from Hippocampus Press in (I think) early 2016; the working title for it is Sefira and Other Betrayals. My agent continues to work on finding a home for my second novel. I’m wrapping up a number of story commitments, and hope to begin work on my next novel over the summer.
If this matters to you, and not to be morbid, but what do you want to leave behind as your legacy as a writer (or as an individual)?
I would like my wife and sons to know that I loved them, and that I tried to be the best husband and father I could be. I would like my friends to remember me as loyal and kind. I would like my readers to continue reading and talking about my fiction, and I would like it to continue to engage and entertain them, to reward their time.
Thank you so much for your time, John.
Thank you, Ted, for such fine questions, and to you and your readers for reading them.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Publishing News - 'Return of the Prodigy' to be published in CTHULHU FHTAGN!, the new Lovecraftian anthology from Ross E. Lockhart and Word Horde, slated for August 2015 debut
|Cover art by Adolfo Navarro/cover design by Scott R. Jones|
Every story sale is cause for celebration. Every single one, every single time. How can it not be? I simply cannot imagine ever becoming jaded to the circumstance where a publisher read and enjoyed your story to such an extent that they not only want to put it in their book that will be marketed around the world, but they also want to pay you money for the right to showcase your writing, in hopes that it will earn them money in return. That's heady stuff, be it your first story sale or your 101st.
And while I have loved and felt blessed for each story sale in the past, placing a story with certain editors and publishers give one an extra thrill, due to the quality of their books, their track record and conduct in the industry, and the esteem in which you hold them.
Such is the case with Ross E. Lockhart and his not-so-new-anymore press Word Horde, which is rapidly becoming THE place for the best in Weird, horror, Lovecraftian, and just generally dark fiction. And, in what will mark my third appearance in a Lockhart/Word Horde project, I am extremely proud to announce that my story "Return of the Prodigy" will be published this August, 2015 in Cthulhu Fhtagn!, the newest anthology of Lovecraftian fiction following in that cosmic slug trail of bar-setting quality blazed by Lockhart's first two Book(s) of Cthulhu, which were released during his enviable run at Night Shade Books.
"Return of the Prodigy" follows two middle-age vacationers from Omaha, Nebraska, as they journey to the discount resort island of Walakea in the South Pacific to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary, and find more than just a bargain waiting for them on the black sand beaches. I enjoyed writing the tale, as it's pulpy, a bit humorous, and interwoven with satire of a specific type of people that I know so well. I've written a lot of comedy in my career, but not much recently. It was good to stretch those muscles a little with this story.
You can pre-order Cthulhu Fhtagn! right here in this very spot. In the meantime, check out the recently released ToC, which includes genre veterans and relative newcomers, as well as some of the finest names working in speculative fiction and horror - cosmic or otherwise - today:
Table of Contents
Introduction: In His House at R’lyeh… – Ross E. Lockhart
The Lightning Splitter – Walter Greatshell
Dead Canyons – Ann K. Schwader
Delirium Sings at the Maelstrom Window – Michael Griffin
Into Ye Smoke-Wreath’d World of Dream – W. H. Pugmire
The Lurker In the Shadows – Nathan Carson
The Insectivore – Orrin Grey
The Body Shop – Richard Lee Byers
On a Kansas Plain – Michael J. Martinez
The Prince of Lyghes – Anya Martin
The Curious Death of Sir Arthur Turnbridge – G. D. Falksen
Aerkheim’s Horror – Christine Morgan
Return of the Prodigy – T.E. Grau
The Curse of the Old Ones – Molly Tanzer and Jesse Bullington
Love Will Save You – Cameron Pierce
Assemblage Point – Scott R. Jones
The Return of Sarnath – Gord Sellar
The Long Dark – Wendy N. Wagner
Green Revolution – Cody Goodfellow
Don’t Make Me Assume My Ultimate Form – Laird Barron
From the publisher:
PREORDER NOW – SHIPS IN AUGUST! The Cthulhu Fhtagn! trade paperback is signed by editor Ross E. Lockhart and comes with a free eBook in your selected format. The eBook will be emailed to you when available. If you would like your paperback personalized, please include your personalization in the Order Notes box on the Checkout page.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Editing News: STRANGE AEONS Issue #16 now available, featuring comics, interviews, 'The Shunned House' film download, and new short fiction by Molly Tanzer and Lon Prater
|Cover by Mohloco|
In addition to my writing endeavors, I also am the Fiction Editor for a fabulous little magazine known as Strange Aeons.
Through the years, we have showcased some of the best in cosmic, horror, Weird, and Lovecraftian fiction, comics, news, and reviews, and our upcoming issue is no exception.
I am honored to announce the inclusion of two new, previously unpublished pieces of fantastical fiction in our most recent edition, Issue #16. Molly Tanzer's "One Hot Chapatha" is a slice of capacious fantasy with such complete characters, creatures, and geographies that it seems ripped from a novel or book series. I really dig this piece, and is the first bit of pure fantasy that I've accepted for publication in Strange Aeons. Lon Prater's "Elder Brother" has a Kafkaesque flavor to it, seasoned with Wells and Lovecraft, its strange, totalitarian setting as futuristic as it is antiquarian. Both tales are fine additions to the Strange Aeons canon, and we are proud to bring them to you, our dear and gentle and slightly unhinged readers.
As for the rest of the issue, please see this recent release from SA Central:
We're kicking off the year in style with a truly amazing cover by the incomparable Mohloco! You can check out more of his artwork here.
56 pages of gorgeous B&W and Color Comics by Rob Corless, Brandon Barrows, Shelby Denham, and Eric York! Short Story Fiction by both Lon Prater and Molly Tanzer! Articles, Columns, Reviews and so much more can be found waiting inside, including interviews with the HP Lovecraft Historical Society and (the musical) Dr. Hill himself, Jesse Merlin!
And if that wasn't enough... for a limited time... you can watch or download your very own copy of Maelstrom Production's award-winning film, THE SHUNNED HOUSE !!!
And as an added bonus, a Lobby Card for the same film!
Issue #16, back issues, t-shirts, prints, and special editions can be purchased by prancing down this rabbit hole right here.
Friday, April 3, 2015
TC Book Review: Following up on his award-winning debut collection, Nathan Ballingrud continues dark excellence with novella 'The Visible Filth,' now available from This Is Horror
|Cover by Pye Parr|
Very little of what is classified as horror fiction or contemporary Weird fiction scares me, and that's okay, because I don't read this style of literature to be frightened. I don't like to be frightened. Truly terrified. Who does, really, if we are being totally honest with ourselves? There are plenty of undertakings one can pursue if genuine fear (not thrills, or shock) is the end result, and I don't see me or anyone else I know heading down those paths, either in a literal or metaphorical sense.
Instead, I read this style of fiction for the wonder of it all, and while the atmospherics can sometimes be unsettling, they usually just end up being cool, or interesting, or awe-inspiring in their fantastical rendering. But in terms of true terror, that is reserved for the decidedly non-fiction realm of real life monsters that burn down villages and break into your homes and hunt women and defile children and devour innocence like they're on some sort of infernal time clock. For all but the true believers, supernatural fiction is fantasy, and fantasy is never scary, as how could something that is admittedly not real serve as a threat to the safety and well being of me and my loved ones?
But Nathan Ballingrud, who does write horror and Weird fiction as well or better than anyone else tapping the keys today, is straight-up scary. Not him personally, as he's a lovely fellow. But the people, places, and things he unleashes onto the page can often be horrifying in all the full-bodied definition of the word. And I like it. My Lord, do I ever like it.
Perhaps its the sense of authenticity of the characters and settings, both of which wear the weight of imperfection like a favorite pair of jeans. Most likely, this conjuring of discomfort from within the reader comes from the way deeply buried human flaws are exhumed, dissected, and laid bare to the humid air, then left there for all to witness, without apology. The abomination of the cut wide human soul. That's unsettling stuff, and that's what Ballingrud writes, like the Larry David or Ricky Gervais of dark fiction. Squirms coated with gooseflesh.
After wowing the horror fiction world in 2013 with the release of his debut collection North American Lake Monsters, which earned him nothing less than a Shirley Jackson Award and the fierce admiration of his peers, Ballingrud continues to build his lasting legacy of pitch black, uncomfortable fiction with his new novella The Visible Filth, published by This Is Horror (an outfit I hadn't heard of prior to ordering this book, but will return to as a customer based on the professionalism and care provided by owner and managing editor Michael Wilson). This is a taut story, shot through with suspense that binds together the strips of shapeless horror of seemingly everyday people and circumstances like a filthy quilt sew with piano wire.
The story is set in New Orleans, but it could be a slice of life in any city or small town where there are bars and college students and eroding relationships. And roaches. And cell phones. This is horror with a firm sense of place, but it is also universal enough that you can feel it churning on your neighborhood block. The evils done and the threats posed aren't ripped from a pulp mag. They could be taken from the morning paper, from text drenched in terrified mystery.
None of the four main characters are incredibly likable, nor fully happy, which seems an honest appraisal of life amongst twenty- and thirty-somethings dwelling in and around the bar scene, no matter the zip code. The leads are flighty and morose and devoted to self medication, spiritually empty in that vaguely nihilistic way of slacker narcissists. A love triangle threatens to destroy an already unstable square, but before this can happen, a random act of violence in a dingy barroom is all that it takes to link a hidden vein of depravity into the group, and plunge these players into a glistening black tunnel that unspools in front of them, the ghastly terminus unknown.
The Visible Filth, like much of Ballingrud's exceptional writing, is an exercise in indefinable - but somehow familiar - horror beyond our control, or even our explanation. Monstrous things are happening just below the veneer of normal life, and all you can do is watch. And you do watch, despite revulsion, and despite your shame. The fact that you like it unlocks something inside you, and you sit, at a bedside, the roaches gathering patiently, and you wait for what is coming.
Nathan Ballingrud is an American writer of horror and dark fantasy. His first book, the short story collection North American Lake Monsters, was published in 2013 by Small Beer Press to great acclaim, including winning the Shirley Jackson Award and being shortlisted for the World Fantasy, British Fantasy, and Bram Stoker awards. He lives in Asheville, NC, with his daughter.
Friday, March 27, 2015
Publishing News: THE NAMELESS DARK, the debut collection of short fiction from T.E. Grau, slated for release July 25, 2015 by Lethe Press
|Cover art by Arnaud de Vallois|
Now that the cover is squared away and the manuscript is into the last throes of the copy edit phase, I am happy to announce that my debut collection of short fiction, titled The Nameless Dark, will be published this July 25, 2015 by Lethe Press.
This collection represents (nearly) every single step of my journey into prose writing after spending over a decade as a screenwriter, and a music journalist and humor columnist several years prior to that, starting in my freshman year of college. It was at age nineteen - and hot on the heels of what Rimbaud described as a "long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses" - that I changed my major from History/Pre Law to English and never (okay, rarely) looked back. In all those years of writing, and through every minor accomplishment, nothing has even remotely been as satisfying as completing a book of prose and finding a publisher that is not just willing, but actually relatively excited, to print it upon rectangled paper and sell it to the reading public.
The journey from manuscript to publishing deal was a bit of a surprise. While wrapping up the last story for the collection ("Tubby's Big Swim"), Steve Berman of Lethe Press contacted me after both Nathan Ballingrud and Laird Barron posted reviews on Facebook of my prairie horror novella The Mission. Steve first sought to re-publish the limited edition novella (which was at that point out-of-print), but after a bit of discussion, he then made an offer to publish my entire collection based in large part of the good word of these two colleagues, whose writing I admire so much. Naturally, I am very much indebted to both Laird and Nathan for reading and then publicly commenting on my work. That sort of exposure is priceless, and incredibly important. Forever pushing the boundaries of manners and entitlement, I then asked Nathan to pen a foreword to The Nameless Dark. As gracious as ever, he agreed, for which I am and shall ever be eternally grateful.
As noted above, these stories stretch back to 2010, starting with "Transmission," which was the first short story I ever wrote, then becoming the first piece of fiction I ever sold. The bones of "Twinkle, Twinkle" were actually written before "Transmission," but I never sought to find a home for it, knowing that I'd want to sit on it a bit and rework it, which I did for The Nameless Dark. It, along with "Tubby's Big Swim" (my most recently completed story), and "Expat" (finished just before "Tubby"), are the three unpublished (and unclaimed) pieces in the collection. "Mr. Lupus," my longest work to date in terms of word count, sold to an anthology a few years back edited by Scott David Aniolowski, but has never been released to the public. "Return of the Prodigy" will be included in this summer's highly anticipated Lovecraftian fiction anthology Cthulhu Fhtagn!, edited by Ross E. Lockhart and published by his excellent press Word Horde. The rest of the stories have appeared in various anthos, fiction journals, and other books over the last five years, and I am excited to have them all collected under one roof, elbowing for space at the family dinner table.
As requested elsewhere in the ether, the table of contents reads as such:
Tubby’s Big Swim
Return of the Prodigy
The Truffle Pig
Beer & Worms
Love Songs from the Hydrogen Jukebox
Pre-orders will begin in April via Amazon, so keep watching this liminal space for information on that, and in the meantime, thank you ever so much, dear readers and watchers and tenders of the signal fires, for your interest in my work. I hope The Nameless Dark satisfies, and opens the door for me to show you previously unknown places and the shadows that live there, both now with this book and in the years to come with whatever will come after. This is just the beginning, the hill country at the foot of the mist-shrouded mountain. I can see the overgrown trail up into the high country, and am adjusting my pack upon my shoulders. The way won't be easy, and is sure to be treacherous, but the view from the top promises to be so incredibly worth it.
Edited (3/30/15) to add: Pre-Orders now available right here.
Edited (3/30/15) to add: Pre-Orders now available right here.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Publishing News: Word Horde set to release in December the trade paperback edition of THE CHILDREN OF OLD LEECH, featuring a new cover by Dalton Rose and Scott R. Jones
I am a short story writer. And while I have ideas for novels, and will most likely begin work on them soon, I see myself at this stage in my writing life primarily as one who most enjoys scribbling things out in the short form. Novellas, novelettes, short long fiction, long short fiction, flash fiction and micro fiction - I like it all. There is a certain compressed power to a complete tale told in a small, confined space. Like a focused punch delivered by a master martial artist, or gunpowder dumped into a metal casing, turning sparkling fire into a deadly concussive force.
All that stated, I realize that to most of the reading and publishing public, the novel is king/queen, and this prevailing fact is no different in the realm of horror fiction. But, for my money, shorter works are and have been the lifeblood of the dark, the supernatural, and the weird, from the very beginning. Think of your favorite works of speculative fiction, and I would hazard that many (most?) of them would be classified as something less than a novel, in terms of word count. I know it is that way with me, as the individual that I consider to be the most talented English language writer of all time (Flannery O'Connor) wrote in the short form. My favorite story of all time is "The Lottery," which is a short story. My favorite weird fiction writers - Ligotti, T.E.D. Klein, Machen, Bradbury, Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Poe, Blackwood, Bierce, Bloch, William Hope Hodgson, Fritz Leiber, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Karl Edward Wagner, Michael Shea, Joe Lansdale, Ramsey Campbell and a host of newer writers currently working in the field - all write either primarily in the short form, or have devoted a large portion of their output to the same. The premiere dark fiction novelists, including King, Barker, Gaiman, Lawrence Block, and George R.R. Martin, wrote hundreds and hundreds of short stories between them.
In short (my apologies), I am a short story writer, and a short story fan. It just works for me.
Over the past several years, I've been fortunate enough to have my short fiction appear in numerous anthologies, and while all of them have been wonderful opportunities for which I am extremely grateful, several of them have come with a little added zing, based on publisher, editor, theme, or ToC. A project that combines all of the above is The Children of Old Leech - edited by Ross E. Lockhart and Justin Steele for Lockhart's Word Horde press - which is a "tribute to the carnivorous cosmos of Laird Barron."
Barron's work was some of the first horror fiction I read that wasn't penned in 1930's during my deep immersion into the genre, and has always remained some of my favorite, especially in terms of atmospherics and overall bleak-as-shit cosmic horror. As such, I was quite honored when Ross and Justin invited me to submit a story to a tribute anthology to Barron and his own unique mythos, which combined savage cosmicism with dark wilderness tales, occulted aristocracy, black magic, and bare knuckle Noir. It's a cosmology that has always resonated with me, and so I was thrilled to see what I could come up with that would fit into the Barronverse. What emerged was my story - a novelette, actually - "Love Songs from the Hydrogen Jukebox," which serves as an homage to my beloved Beats amid an homage to Laird Barron. Two birds with one tribute stone, and all of that.
The story has receive positive reviews, and - more importantly - the anthology itself has been met with critical accolades and impressive sales. As such, Word Horde is releasing The Children of Old Leech as a trade paperback in December, sporting a snazzy new cover featuring artwork by Dalton Rose (for a Slate article on Barron) and cover design by Scott R. Jones.
Even if you already have the original hardcover release, featuring that iconic cover by Matthew Revert, it would behoove (and behoof) you to pick up The Children of Old Leech in paperback, as I have a feeling that both will be considered bookends of each other in days to come, as Barron's dark star continues to ascend, and these unassuming works of indie fiction being created today become codified, carved into the damp cave stone of weird literature's canon eternal.
|Original artwork by Dalton Rose|
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
TC Review and Interview: John Claude Smith leads us through an AUTUMN IN THE ABYSS, now available from Omnium Gatherum
For the past few years, I and many of my colleagues have written and spoken at length about the Weird Fiction Renaissance currently taking place amid the long and twisting halls of genre fiction. More writers are doing more work in speculative fiction than any other time in the recent past. And while the double edged sword of self publishing services, POD, and electronic media platforms have provided easier access to that once elusive - and now often murky - label of "published work," removing necessary gatekeepers and truncated the time it takes to move from amateur to legit, some strong grain is being sifted to the surface amid all of that overeager chaff.
One of these Renaissance Men is certainly John Claude Smith, who proves his weird fic mettle in his second collection Autumn in the Abyss, published by Omnium Gatherum, a book of five bleak, well crafted tales just as liable to punch you in the gut as twist some dark corner of your mind, tied together with the sinewy connective tissue of recurring characters and familiar thematic overtones. This is cosmic horror, but this is also body horror and gore, with several of the stories plumbing the cruelest pits and most deviant acts perpetrated by humankind, much of it playing out in front of an audience of curious eyes not native to this planet. To Smith, we are not the center of the universe, nor are we alone in it, and that is a very unfortunate thing, for a variety of reasons that become viscerally evident as each story unfolds. Dark forces have found our planet, and have reached out to it - to us - to study, to absorb, to form unholy alliances, embodied by the mysterious Mr. Liu, who shows up in several of the stories like a jaundiced tether, tying the collection together. Smith is a fetching stylist with an unflinching eye and a thoughtful take on modern horror fiction, showing us the beauty, the barbarity, the abyss that lies inside all there is.
The title tale kicks off the book, and serves as its longest and possibly its strongest piece. Admittedly, as a hopelessly romantic fan of the Beats, I'm probably biased toward "Autumn in the Abyss," but even without the callbacks to (and cameos by) a variety of Beatnik nouns, this story stands tall as a huge and engrossing work of uncanny fiction. While researching the public disappearance of "visionary poet Henry Coronado" - think a Ginsberg/Kerouac/Burroughs amalgam meets Thomas Ligotti - an agoraphobic investigative writer uncovers various clues, recollections, and interview fragments that begin to unravel the mystery that abruptly ended the career of a Beatnik star immediately after his first public reading - albeit a reading that ended with the death of nearly everyone in attendance. Smith shows a familiarity with the subject matter that blends the druggy jazz of the Beats with the dark yearnings of those intellectually and spiritually curious seekers who came well before them. It is also - at its heart - a rumination on the power of of the spoken word, in which what qualifies as a "poem" and what can be classified as a "spell" or "incantation" or even "summoning" is often nonexistent, and only differentiated by what words are actually spoken, and in what order. "Autumn in the Abyss" is a fascinating work, worthy of the title (which is fantastic), and a perfect anchor tale to launch the collection.
"Broken Teacup" is a leering stare into the nauseating depths of human depravity, and the male lust for sex and death, often not in that order nor separated from one another. Smith's background in music journalism makes itself felt here through a confident handling of the sonic underworld where it crosses over with snuff erotica. This was a hard story to read, mostly because I know that such people are living and doing their business right this very second all around me. "Broken Teacup" marks Mr. Liu's first arrival in the book, but certainly not the last, and with each arrival, we see further into the mythos of Smith's dark universe, and the ties that bind our reality to what swirls just outside it.
The "wealthy Chinese gentleman" returns for a consecutive appearance in "La mia immortalita," John Claude Smith's requisite tale of a tortured (torturing?) artist, as it seems every writer of horror/supernatural fiction has one inside their pen, struggling to get out much like the waiting shape inside the slab of uncut marble. What will one sacrifice to achieve immortality through their art? I guess it depends on who is asking, and what they can offer.
"Where the Light Won't Find You" is - relatively speaking - probably the weakest piece of the bunch, closing out the collection on not quite as strong a note as the start. But, it does give us another piece of the Mr. Liu puzzle, who returns for his third and final bow. The story takes place almost entirely inside an unremarkable movie theater, and is plotted like a modern pulp rendering of fantastical fiction from an age gone by. And while I certainly enjoyed it (I'm a sucker for the pulps), I didn't think it quite lived up to the lofty bar set by the other stories of Autumn in the Abyss. No matter, though, as it is a minor quibble and probably a bit of nitpicking, as the collection is so strong overall.
Admittedly, I have not read Smith's debut collection, The Dark is Light Enough For Me, but I have read and published his fiction in the past ("Beautiful," which appeared in the acclaimed Strange Aeons Issue #13), and based on everything I have seen so far from John Claude Smith, he is major talent with a firm place at the table of contemporary weird fiction writers currently carrying the smoky torch of supernatural literature. The Renaissance continues...
Hi, John. Thanks so much for taking the time to sit down with The Cosmicomicon.
My pleasure, Ted. I look forward to digging into the questions.
I like to start out each interview with a bit of background on the interviewee. Your bio lists work as not just a prose author, but also a writer of poetry, song, and journalism. What first got you interesting in writing, and how has your journey with the written word played out?
My journey has been a long, erratic mess, but that’s life, so I keep pushing forward. I remember being seven years-old and reading a story by H.P. Lovecraft in an anthology and amazed how, with words, he had created an ambiance that was real, tangible, and I wanted to do this as well. But I did not pursue writing at that time because art was my main interest back then as I had a talent for drawing, something I hope to explore again in the future. Fast forward a few years, my teenage self starts in with rock ‘n’ roll lyrics that evolve into poetry. Most of these are bad, but there are flashes of something taking shape, the seeds of obsessions and even stylistic nuances that would imbue much of my later work. Flash forward again, late twenties and I realize I need to get serious about this writing gig, because I keep going back to it as life tumbles onward. Getting serious means writing every day and sending out submissions. Acceptances come in small presses for a few stories written under a pseudonym, Kiel Alexander, a name chosen because when you’re named John Smith, something more distinct is necessary; I added John to the beginning of the pseudonym in the early 2000s before switching over to my real name (I think…), John Claude Smith. Stepping back in the timeline, while working in a record store I start writing in-store reviews, branching out to magazines such as Outburn, Side-Line, Industrial Nation, Alternative Press, and more. Review writing takes over my life. A few years caught in this cycle pushes fiction to the background. Life shakes, rattles and rolls on and splinters to a point where, after the dust settles, I tell myself to quit messing around with reviews and get back to fiction. More sales, more publications, a relationship break-up that inspires my first as yet unpublished novel, but at least it let me know I could do it. A second novel follows, more stories, refinement, growth…and my first collection, The Dark is Light Enough For Me, is published. Then a second collection, Autumn in the Abyss, is published early 2014. Constantly taking it all in and stretching as a writer.
There is a distinct strain of Cosmic Horror in your work. Was the exploration of alien terrors a conscious choice? What other practitioners of Cosmic Horror do you read, and/or have influence you as a writer?
I've always had an interest in Cosmic Horror, though it was not the focus of my early stories. I just wanted to write gruesome, atmospheric, or just down and dirty Horror. I believe there was a shift once I got into music journalism. What? That’s right. A lot of what I reviewed was instrumental, experimental soundscapes. Everything from dark ambient to power electronics. I used these sounds to create worlds and creatures within the reviews. Much of this type of music, particularly the dark ambient, tends to utilize cosmic references and suggestions of deep space origins. Bands like Inade and Endvra sonically skirt along the edge of oblivion, though they often bring those elements into the dark pockets of our world as well. Either way, this type of music was paramount in my writer’s mindset, steering me away from the more familiar horrors and along dark roads less traveled.
|The Old Master CAS|
Judging by social media, and backed up by “La mia immortalità," you seem to be a lover of the visual arts as well as the written ones, taking great pleasure in the beauty of the image. How important is this to your daily life, and how does it inspire and possibly inform your writing?
Art is necessary in my life. Art in all forms fuels me constantly. Music, obviously, as well as all sorts of visual forms of art, from paintings to digital to sculpture to…wherever art is headed. I’m interested and want to see more, know more. Paintings and digital work constantly inspire ideas and stories or at least scenes to be incorporated in a tale. As with the music reviews, I let the art take my imagination wherever it wants to go. You mention “La mia immortalità,” the inspiration for the story was the famous (and my favorite) sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Viewing his sculptures at the Borghese Gallery in Rome, Italy, of Apollo and Daphne, The Rape of Proserpina, and so much more throughout Rome, I was awestruck. Before seeing these in person, sculpture was a backburner interest. Now, well, how can a creative individual not be inspired?
You have also spent many years serving as a reviewer of dark and heavy music. Did this background play into the writing of "Broken Teacup"?
Absolutely. I've reviewed many a CD that could very well be what is described in that story, as created by the fictional band, Texas Chainsaw Erection. The actual inspiration for the sample in the popular underground hit within the story (“Curly Straw”) parallels a sample I heard early in the track, “Whoredom,” by Taint. Now, most of what I listened to in the noise field was not of this perverse foundation, and a lot of that is fairly unlistenable, but much of it works for me. The sheer ferocity of noise as well as the willingness to go to places most would avoid, what with those samples meant to make the listener squirm with discomfort—not unlike what I like to do with some of my fiction. Music in all forms shapes a lot of my tales.
Another spark of inspiration for this tale was a short story by John Everson—I believe it was “Let Go”—that opens with a truly despicable character, yet by the end the reader almost feels sympathy for him. I wanted that here, but probably went so deep into the darkness sympathy was well out of reach…
What else inspires you? What are your Muses?
The world around me. Everything. There are no limitations to what can inspire if one lives one’s life with eyes wide open. Taking in a movie about Pasolini in Rome a few weeks ago triggered a story dealing with the nature of the artist and how far is too far. How far is too much, perhaps, in trying to make a point. A request for an anthology with the editor making a couple of suggestions, then my mentioning it to my girlfriend, Alessandra, she tosses in her two cents, and another tale is in motion. An article online about [place obscure subject matter here]. Watching the dynamics of people at a recent concert. Eyes wide open. Always.
Other writers, too. This is rather obvious, but great writing is high on my list of inspiration. Recently, Scott Nicolay’s debut collection, Ana Kai Tangata, melted my brain and restructured it with different patterns and what-not. (The story that followed this process—oh, my!) The Children of Old Leech, the Laird Barron tribute, just amazing. Made me want to write a tale for the next installment. Re-reading Lucius Shepard, Samuel Delany, while looking for new writers who know what they are doing, like Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, whose debut collection, Weird Tales of a Bangalorean, I’m digging the tones, the vibes, just wonderful. It’s a constant search for writing done right, for writing that moves me.
The enigmatic - and infinitely "well-connected" - Mr. Liu makes an appearance in several of your stories. Without giving anything away, what can you tell us about Liu? How was he created, and what is his purpose in your work going forward (if, indeed, he will live on past Autumn in the Abyss)?
Mr. Liu was, as I like to think of a few characters that have come out of the blue or perhaps out of the pitch black, a gift. I remember writing “Broken Teacup” and thinking, okay, what happens now? Show me. And there he was this ancient Chinese fella with the hot-wired connections. Balance is essential for me in a lot of ways, Mr. Liu just became my emissary for a broader scope of possibilities dealing with the subject. Pieces of his history have trickled through the other stories, primarily “La mia immortalità,” toward the end, but it’s still coming to me. There will be at least a few more stories for him, including one with a female protagonist that goes to unexpected places, as well as an origin story that could end up in novelette or even novella territory. There’s a strong idea that he’s not even Chinese, but circumstances…altered him. Working on this story early in the new year, I expect. Though making plans, c’mon, just this last week, with a novel to revise and get to the publisher and a getting deep into a couple other stories, I had a new story demand my time, wrapping up in less than a week.
Speaking of cameos, and as a huge fan of the Beats, I applaud your inclusion of Jack Kerouac in the title novella, as well as the setting within the Beatnik literary world and the shout outs to many of the greats. Is this a love letter?
A love letter…and a reaction to a lot going on around me at its inception. I was in Rome, Italy, a couple years ago, visiting my girlfriend, Alessandra. She was immersed in research for a bio on a famous American poet at the time—still working on it as I type this, with a self-imposed deadline of getting it done next year. She started telling me all she was finding, even some elements that might sway me, if I was writing it, to step away if they were true. They don’t seem to be, but that opened my mind to the tale of an agoraphobic’s research into mad poet, Henry Coronado, and his loaded poem, Autumn in the Abyss. (Though, of course, I did not know he was an agoraphobic until I started writing the tale. All the writers reading this know how that works…) In discussions with Alessandra, she mentioned Beat poet, Lew Welch, who left a suicide note in his truck at a campsite, never to be seen again. That opened up the beginning of the story for me, gave me a way into it…and it just unraveled from there. Add to this my love of words, not just as you read them, but in this case, as if they were sentient, well… Over two white-hot weeks, that tale poured out of me. Final revisions with my publisher shaped it into the weird tale it is.
As for adding real people in my fiction, it’s something I picked up from J.G. Ballard, perhaps the most influential writer for my work, though Clive Barker has his stamp on some of the more obvious elements, I’m sure. (Many pieces go into the never completed puzzle of whatever the heck I am doing.) Ballard used Elizabeth Taylor as the obsession of Vaughan in Crash, my favorite novel. Though others have used known, real people, in their fiction, Crash was the novel that made me think…why not? So, the Beats in Autumn in the Abyss…and William S. Burroughs is a driving force and makes an appearance in my novel WIP, “Riding the Centipede.”
In many of your pieces, the human characters in the story easily outstrip the "monsters" in violence, cruelty, and depravity. Was this intentional, or some unconscious projection of your feelings on humanity?
It stems from my fascination with the darker aspects of what it means to be human. Whether intentional or unconscious projection of my spin on humanity, it varies with each story. But I know it’s always there, this curiosity about what drives those who allow or choose or are slaves to perversions of psychology, philosophy, sexuality, and addiction, to run their lives. I like getting my hands and mind dirty as it’s a more honest approach to characters, their development, motivations, and the wily inner thread of monologue that speaks to them…and each of us, always. Stuff that nobody admits having thought, but it’s there, we all do it. What if your partner or friends knew what really was going on in your head? Oh, my… Point being, if I’m going to go to the darkest places within a character, I won’t flinch. But I also want, at all times, to remain in touch with the human side. For example, with “Becoming Human,” I know some people even into the hardcore side of horror squirmed when reading about the serial killer/rapist/psychological cipher, Krell. Yet the key to that story, in showing such brutality, is as much about Detective Vera and his finally getting back to what matters to him, his wife and their love. In finally becoming human again.
A love of the work of Burroughs, Hubert Selby, Jr., and other writers who delve into their addictions fuels much of my work. As well as friends I know who have gone to very dark places with their own addictions and obsessions. As well as me and my outsider mindset, something I was born with—there is evidence of this from a very young age—though being raised in your average middle American family, I also learned how to, yes, balance my interests, the fringe with the more commercial, I suppose. I am here, jotting notes, learning always. Funny, in writing this, it veers into one of my favorite topics: perspective. How we each view the world and live our lives. After all, one person’s logic is another person’s lunch. Or…well, yes, something like that. Bon appetit!
How did you get hooked up with Kate Jonez and Omnium Gatherum? With a roster that includes some extremely well-regarded authors, it seems to be a hot indie press.
I’d enjoyed what I had read from Omnium Gatherum, following their progression as they grew into something of a force. We had some contact and she mentioned wanting to work with me. Perfect…so I sent her a novel that she passed on, saying it was a bit too straightforward and Lovecraftian for her. I was bummed, then studied some OG titles and realized Autumn… would possibly work for her because it’s a tale that fits more what she likes, something that bounces around in time or at least has a variety of things going on. I sent it her way and she was happy to accept it. But in order to make the book long enough to get a title on the spine, we needed to add some words. I sent her the three Mr. Liu stories and she loved them. I thought we were set. But a status on FB asked some questions—I forget what exactly—and in the process, I sent her another story, just so she could get my spin on whatever that status had questioned, not even thinking about adding the story—“Becoming Human”—to the book. But when she sent the edits, she’d added it to the TOC, stating it was her favorite story of the batch. The editing process for the book was a fabulous experience, spending all day one Saturday reading the tales back and forth to each other, shaping everything properly.
I hope to have more work published by OG, especially the novel that’s this close to completion, because part of the inspiration for it was comments she made about the rejected novel. You want wild and crazy, eh? Okay…
Tell us a bit about your debut fiction collection, The Dark is Light Enough For Me.
Is it "John" or "Jean"? If the latter, how many people pronounce your name as "Gene" on a weekly basis?
John. I get the occasional Jean, not often, but enough to just shake my head and smile.
What's next for you? What projects do you have in the pipeline? Where can we find you online, and your published work?
I’m completing a novel, a kind of quest/manhunt through the dark frontier of drug addiction and altered realities, the aforementioned, “Riding the Centipede.” Another collection is in the works, too. The main deal is just to keep writing!
A handful of titles are upcoming in anthologies including “The First and Last Performance of Varack” in the Monk Punk & The Shadow of the Unknown omnibus; I was told they wanted surreal Lovecraftian tales, so this was the result. Actually, been getting a lot of requests for Lovecraft-related tales, so there’s “I Am…” in A Mythos Grimmly—a mash-up of fairy tales and Lovecraft--and two other tales in this vein, one getting sent out later today as I type this. There’s a few other tales including one for the second volume of Axes of Evil and one for Soul Survivors II, as well as a second novelette to be released early 2015 by Dunhams Manor Press, called “Vox Terrae.”
You can find me at the usual hangouts—Facebook, Twitter, even Google+ though I don’t remember the last time I was there, and Goodreads—all listed under my full name for easy search. There’s also a blog, The Wilderness Within: http://thewildernesswithinbyjohnclaudesmith.blogspot.it/.
Thanks again, John, for the interview, and best of luck with all of your future endeavors.
You’re welcome and thank you so much, Ted. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time going through these questions. We’ll have to do it again sometime. :)