Friday, May 3, 2013

TC Book Review & Interview: Jordan Krall Branches Out from Bizarro and Establishes Strong Mythos Cred with 'Nightmares from a Lovecraftian Mind'

Jordan Krall impresses me.  Yea verily, I am impressed by Jordan Krall.

Known primarily – at least to me, for a long period of time - as a Bizarro author, which is a limiting label in my even more limited opinion, I find Krall to be a bang-up Lovecraftian in that new jack Subtle School, and therefore someone I see as essential to a genre often cluttered by too many Cthulhu cameos and robed cultists who all somehow possess a copy of the Necronomicon.  The stars are always right, and everyone’s favorite Great Old One is on the verge of rising once again to… do whatever he’ll do when he rises from that watery sleeping bag, jammies all soaked, pissy as hell.  That’s Lovecraftian Pastiche 101.  I've done it.  Lots of us have.  Jordan Krall could teach that class, if he wasn’t already admitted into the Miskatonic Graduate Program, where all the banners have been removed from the wall, and only those who are attending know on which campus they really are.

In his recent novella, Nightmares of a Lovecraftian Mind, published by Dunhams Manor Books, Krall cuts clean a Double Live literary concept album, where each titled chapter acts as a song that breathes on its own, but nods to the heaving collective.  Pink Floyd on Yuggothian acid come to glistening life.  This is post-Ligotti, impressionist Lovecraftianism – suggestive, urban, monumentally Weird, spontaneously murderous, and totally lacking in incomprehensible alien gods or even recognizable monsters, except for those who live down the block, or hang around the playground reading manuals on industrial parks.  Krall creates vignettes that are familiar yet cold and otherwordly.  Askew.  Like when a movie crew films something that is supposed to be set in New York on the streets of Toronto to save a nickel and ruin America.  We’re TOLD that we’re in SoHo, but none of the streets seem to fit.  The landmarks are all absent.

Krall is a stylist as much as a storyteller, creating interesting, intersecting characters that could shoulder their own novels, based on their own internal cataclysms and the doom that follows each step.  Osman and Xynobis, Roux and the nameless schmuck who fears an infestation of ants in his apartment - all of these doomed souls are begging for more pages.  Themes prevail, following a wriggling through-line.  Father issues and DEEP DENDO.  Milk and alcohol (that's right - not scotch, not whiskey, but alcohol).  These are a few of the unifying buzzwords and concepts that weave overarching throughout this work of sublime dread.  Figure it all out, buddy.  I have my theories.  Pour me a double shot of alcohol, milk back, and you’ll get my interpretation, but it feels like Nightmares from a Lovecraftian Mind is a set up to be an encyclopedia mortis of KrallCraftian tomes.  One can only hope.

The world he presents is a stark, threatening one, where every stranger and friend are bonded immediately by their shared wish for demise.  Characters are disaffected, and for good reason, as chance encounters and innocent proximity often have dire consequences.  And madness is everywhere, as everywhere is madness.  From the doilies of the suburban home to the jerk-off booths in Times Square.  The common is made dangerous, like Hitchcock run amok in a Steadman painting.  This is Krall’s umbrella shielding a cosmic rain, yet the rivulets fall, making mad those dampened, one breath and random conversation from murder, or worse.

Krall’s prose is clean but rich, interesting in its word selection.  He’s mature and jaunty.  Saucy, weaving just a honey drop of poetic flair and dollop of HPL purple into his narratives.  He’s the smart kid in the back of the room, who’s read more than you and knows the best dirty jokes.  His chapters show that he is well versed in the trappings of the baroque, but prefers to downplay the baubles in favor of a cleanly wrought sentence.  It’s quite the balancing act, and is seamless, with nary a stumble on the wire.  Krall is joining his contemporaries in the genre in helping show us where Lovecraftian writing can go, without being chained to the increasingly played-out confines of the Cthulhu Mythos.  Eerie, unsettling, smooth yet complex.  Layered, odd, and infinitely quotable.  These things are Nightmares of a Lovecraftian Mind.

That said, I feel like his title nods to the Cyclopean elephant not in the room, and will disappoint dilettantes who are expecting inscrutable chants, bloodied altars, and imminent global destruction, only to find a slow, ablated meltdown of a strange, cruel world.  As the better Lovecraftian fiction continues to stray from the proud yet now prosaic roots of its birth, plumbing the depths of madness and fear rather than monsters in the sky, writers like Jordan Krall keep the cavalcade healthy and hale.  As noted above, this is Grad School, kiddies, not 101.

Lynchian, Lovecraftian, Krallian.  Can I make “Krallian” a thing?  I sure as shit hope so, as I’m trying like the dickens to get Barronic as a certifiable adjective, so let’s work on Krallian next.  The unformed Contempo Weird World is ours now, folks, so let’s start nailing down the lexicon and shoring up the perimeter.

I know he’s a hit in the Bizarro world, but I hope Jordan Krall stays and plays in County Lovecraftiana, as he adds so much to the geography.  If he loves his readers – and Baby Jesus - at all, he’ll start writing a novel starring the oddly necromantic Osman tomorrow.  If not, he’s a fucking dick.

Below you will find a writer in transition, candidly discussing where he's been, his growth, and the new vistas he wishes to glimpse in the days to come.  Check Jordan Krall's head to see where he's at, and see if you want to go with him.  I'll save you a spot either way.

TC:  Let’s start off with your recent announcement that sent ripples through the speculative and underground fiction community, in which you stated via social media that, in future, you will no longer - or only occasionally - write Bizarro Fiction.  As someone who made his bones in the Bizarro scene through such works as Fistful of Feet and Beyond the Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys, what moved you to make and announce this decision?  Has there been a discovery of a new Muse that uprooted you from your familiar genre, or was your decision rooted in something deeper?  

There are quite a few reasons for this and I won’t bore you with all of them now. But to make it short… my work has gradually been moving away from what can be considered ‘bizarro’ and in fact, one of the books you mentioned, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE APOCALYPSE DONKEYS, is not really one I would consider bizarro. The bizarro genre, for me, has become too constrictive and most of the books there lack depth. They are too concerned with just being “weird” that they sacrifice good writing and interesting plots. So much of it is juvenile and, for back of a better word, quite simple. I’ve found myself being bored by the output and sometimes even embarrassed by some of the creative decisions some of the authors make. Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of talented writers there but I just think I’ve outgrown the genre itself. That’s not to say I won’t write another bizarro book. I will. It’s actually pretty fun to do. It just won’t be my chosen genre. I am also appreciative of it for giving me my start in writing professionally.

TC:  When did you know that you were going to be a writer, and what led you to this realization?

I remember being about ten years old and writing stories but they were, of course, quite crappy. Then as a teenager I got a little more serious about it but I mostly wrote cryptic poetry and stories that were overly influenced by Burroughs. I stopped soon after and didn’t start again until I was about twenty-five.

TC:  What was your first brush with H.P. Lovecraft?  What is your favorite HPL story?  What are your plans as far as writing what would be considered “Lovecraftian fiction” going forward?

I don’t know how I discovered Lovecraft, but it was when I was about twelve or thirteen years old. I remember sitting in Barnes & Noble (this was during the time they frowned upon people sitting and reading in their stores) and looking through all the Bantam paperbacks. To me, HPL symbolized the unknown, the mysterious occult side of fiction. I knew that Cthulhu and the Necronomicon weren’t real but it was exciting to pretend it was, to pretend there were sinister cults of worshippers out there.

TC:  Nightmares of a Lovecraftian Mind is quite an achievement.  What was the genesis of this “concept collection”?

I just decided to pour all of my love for Lovecraftian and “cosmic” horror into a collection. That being said, I made sure to stay away from the usual tropes that have flooded the weird fiction genre. I do not use Lovecraftian plot devices or anything. I tried to modernize the subgenre while also making it really personal. In addition to HPL, I was also very much inspired by the writing of Wilum H. Pugmire and Thomas Ligotti.

TC:  With Squid Pulp Blues, Tentacle Death Trip, and now Nightmares of a Lovecraftian Mind under your shiny ass belt, you’ve obviously explored the HPL Mythos quite a bit and established your cosmic horror credentials.  As such, where do you feel you fit in with the wider Lovecraftian Fiction scene?  

My goal is to appeal to readers who want weird fiction that’s outside the norm without being pretentious or derivative of HPL. I suppose I’ve also created my own mythos… not necessarily on purpose but as a result of writing within my
own mental framework. Wow, did that make any sense at all?

TC:  Actually, it makes perfect sense.  Shifting gears away from Lovecraft, you have recently written and released several chapbooks and novellas through Copeland Valley Press, including False Magic Kingdom, Bad Alchemy, and The Gog and Magog Business.  Tell us a little about these.

Those books are three in a series of four books. The last is a novel called YOUR CITIES, YOUR TOMBS. The series is my exploration of paranoia, anxiety, terrorism, fatherhood, marriage, etc. People will be surprised by these books as they lack the explicit sex and violence of my previous work. That being said, I believe these contain some of the scariest and most disturbing scenes I've ever written. I tried very hard to put my own fears into this book to an almost unhealthy degree (I am particularly afraid of tall buildings). Also, I was heavily inspired and influenced by J.G. Ballard, Barry Malzberg, and William Burroughs as well as a multitude of nonfiction books. It’s probably the most personal of anything I’ve written thus far.

TC:  You are the Founder and Galactic Overlord of Dynatox Ministries.  What’s your goal for this promising limited edition indie press?

My goal is to publish really interesting books… the kind of stuff that I myself would like to read. I don’t limit genres either. I prefer more offbeat work but as long as it’s good, I’m open to it. Horror, absurdist, surrealism, nonfiction, etc. In most cases, I give authors a blank check in terms of what they can write. It’s mostly an “invite only” press so far because there are some authors I really want to work with.

TC:  What’s the deal with Krall Con?  Is this a legitimate convention, or just a bit of inspired japery?  How was the debut gathering?  

Well, it started off as a little joke but turned into a legitimate gathering of writers and readers. It was a bit tiny but we had about four motel rooms at our disposal and lots of fun was had. Readings, a David Lynch trivia contest, impromptu film making, and even a really disturbing dance party. This year it was about a dozen people but next year I’m expecting more. I’d really like to raise money in order to hold it somewhere bigger or at least rent out a hall so we can have live music.

TC:  To recap the Year of Krall so far, 2013 has brought us Dynatox Ministries, the first annual Krall Con, your move away from Bizarro, and now a series of compelling paintings.  To what do you credit this expansion and transformation of your creative impulses?

I don’t know, really. I guess I just have a bunch of pent up creativity and I can’t help but let it out in every way possible. I also make music so that’s yet another way I vent. There are simply not enough hours in the day, though.I wish I didn’t have to sleep.

TC:  What are you personally working on right now as a writer?  Any new Lovecraftian/cosmic horror in your – and our – future?  As an editor/publisher, what is Dynatox working on at present?

Yeah, I’m working on expanding NIGHTMARES FROM A LOVECRAFTIAN MIND for the paperback release. For Dynatox, I have so many awesome projects coming, it’s ridiculous. This summer I’m publishing a 6-book set of nunspolitation novellas from several talented authors: Nick Cato, Chris Bowsman, Jonathan Moon, Alex S. Johnson, R.A. Harris, and yours truly. The set will be housed in a wooden box and will be limited to 10 copies. Five of the books will be available for sale separately but mine will only be available with the box. I’m very excited about this.

TC:  Thank you, Jordan, for enduring these annoyingly probing and often inane questions.  The Cosmicomicon will be watching your career closely.  Uncomfortably close.

Thanks, Teddy.

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