Friday, December 28, 2012

TC Book Review & Interview: Richard Gavin Digs Deep into the Nightside in New Collection 'At Fear's Altar' from Hippocampus Press

Cover art by Harry O. Morris
Everyone wants to stake a claim in both the Big “H” and small “h” Horror game these days.  I’m not just talking about writers, but producers, development executives, toy manufacturers, cartoonists, bands, and any other enterprising individuals that utilize (and often exploit) creativity to sell a product.

Horror is hip.  Horror is hot.  Horror of a sort, that is...  Yet REAL Horror - that which usually graces a sheaf of parchment rather than a played out digital screen - still toils in mainstream obscurity.  Quality never sells.  Cheeseburgers do.  Readers become writers, and writers lower standards to accommodate a wider net cast wide to snare an ever-shrinking pool of actual readers.  The wonderful and varied realms of genre fiction – those quasi pigeonholes where Horror is Weird and Weird is Horror - remain cloistered from the outside, yet are increasingly crowded by an influx of burgeoning insiders setting up tents to hock wares and carnival bark.  This creates one hell of a party, but it also ultimately sucks the oxygen out of the room.  A dry keg, with a line out into the yard of thirsty people gripping tightly their red plastic cups.

Basically, what I’m saying in this clumsy metaphor is that while Horror Fiction once again seems to be growing in popularity (granted, in very small increments), it also is becoming increasingly diluted and marginalized in an attempt to stretch the liquor in the punch as far as it will go.  Sooner or later, you can’t taste the bite anymore, and what remains is 15 cans of room temp Hawaiian Punch left to gather fruit flies in the bowl.

Okay, I'll spare you any more fermented metaphors and proclaim this instead:  In the realms of Horror, Richard Gavin is the absolute Real Deal, an Occulted acolyte of the numinous and practitioner of the Dark Arts, who is writing some of the best supernatural short stories of our time - hell, of any time.  This is the quality stuff that rises above the din, authentic and expansive and true to the fundamental roots of Horror that keeps the genre from teetering into pastiche and fan fic infamy.  This is the ethanol in the punch bowl (sorry, last one).

Indeed, I foresee a time in the not to distant future when Gavin joins the Bigs in the annals of supernatural fiction.  Not just the living Bigs and those who dreamed and bled to expand the scene throughout the 20th century (Lovecraft, Bradbury, Aickman, Campbell, Klein, Ligotti, etc.), but the venerable Dark Fraternity that traces its history to Poe and Stoker, Mary Shelley, Matthew Lewis, and M.R. James.  In the past decade, Gavin has written much, and has much to write, but with this his fourth collection, he deserves a place at the scarred and slowly expanding Table of the Greats, where I can visualize Gavin sitting with the old and moldering Weirdists, sharing a glass of port by candlelight and not seeming out of place in the slightest.  He lives for this pursuit, this searching The Dark, and it shows in every finely craft line and new vista he documents.

As a colleague of mine (his name rhymes with “Simon Strantzas”) recently stated in a conversation, At Fear’s Altar is “an important collection,” and I heartily agree.  This book has a solidness to it, a largeness and import that is undeniable.  Upon first reading - and I imagine upon second and third - his stories quickened my pulse, shook the cobwebs from my psyche and made me sit up a little straighter as my eyes shot across the page.  When forced to set the book aside by the vagaries of daily schedule, scenes stayed with me like a slow burn, which I find to be rare phenomenon these days, as it is not often that the written word produces such a lasting, internal reaction.  His stories are alchemical, creating something new inside you born out of unrelated parts, leaving fresh elements in their wake that hadn't previously existed in this reality.

Stylistically, he is clean and confident, imbuing the thirteen tales that make up At Fear’s Altar with a music that is comfortingly classic in language and theme, yet totally fresh in execution.  And his work is often legitimately scary, which is another rarity.  I think this stems from the fact that Gavin seems like an authentic article when it comes to Horror.  I don’t pretend to know him well, but of what I do know of the man, his writing (both fiction and non), his scholarship, and general intellectual pursuits, paint the portrait of an individual who doesn’t wear the trappings of horror as a pose.  Instead, the True Dark seems to emanate from his DNA.  He is Occulted in a consummate way that isn’t some religious (or lack thereof) commentary or rebellion against the Light, but that of an enthusiastic Seeker truly inspired by and deferential to matters of esoterica, from earthy black magic to the unknowable secrets of cold cosmicism. 

And you can taste it in At Fear’s Altar. It all sounds close by, and in some cases improbably true, which makes it all the more frightening. Gavin is not just trying to set trite stories in "spooky" places.  He explores the full palette of dimensional reality and possibility, weaving in nods to the Outer Abyss, Hell, and unnamed places in between, including those just down the street, or perhaps just over the hill. Everywhere is his playground, everything his swing set, which makes his stories so widely appealing.  Lovecraftians, Supernaturalists, Hellhounds, and fans of the Uncanny will all find something to enjoy in At Fear's Altar, if not celebrate.

The collection begins with a Prologue titled "A Gate of Nerves," which sets the table for what is to come, evoking an atmosphere of the supernatural and the unfolding encomium to fear in all of its forms and guises, and ultimately effects.  The tales that follow range from very good to extraordinary, but I'd like to focus on several that I found to be particularly splendid.

“The Abject” recalls a Laird Barron tale, or maybe Simon Strantzas.  Or perhaps Laird Strantzas.  A healthy dose of cosmic horror and wilderness terror, interwoven with relationship decay, that leads to a tragic end without easy explanation.  There are topographical similarities between "The Abject" and "Annexation" (strange outcroppings of land just off shore), although the latter deals with a mother searching our her son lost to dark teachings, leading her to a conclusion of which she was better served to remain ignorant.

"A Pallid Devil, Bearing Cypress" seems as early 20's century and European as its setting.  Just a fantastic tale emerging from a bombed-out city suffering under a constant Nazi Blitzkrieg that shows Gavin's deftness with matters more demonic than straight up cosmic. "Darksome Leaves" is a fully modern, Ligottian tale, and plays with item horror and masks as keys to something far deeper and infinitely powerful.  "The Plain" is a Weird Western combined with a morality tale as old as the desert, that recalls Robert E. Howard, with a more elegant touch.

“Faint Baying from Afar,” which is “An Epistolary Trail after H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Hound’” is a nod to one of Gavin's influences, and the noted epistolary style brings out Gavin' classic chops.  This is an elegant tale, told through letters from a son to his mother, which only makes the growing horror all that more unsettling.  Another bow to Lovecraft is "The Unbound," which to me, honors writers even further back, including Bierce, Blackwood, and Machen.

Personally, I found "Chapel in the Reeds” and “The Eldritch Faith” - the stories that bookend the collection - to be not only the strongest pieces in At Fear's Altar, but truly some of the best Weird fiction stories I've ever read.  The way Gavin handles the fears and uncertainty of old age in "Chapel in the Reeds" is so impressive that I would have sworn it was written by an octogenarian.  From the POV of a man struggling to hold on to his sanity, memory, and what is left of his family eroded by natural causes, Gavin folds in the additional threat of a strange, tiny church secreted away in the woods, which is the perfect device to terrify and mystify both reader and protagonist.  Unsettling and though provoking, to be sure, and an excellent rumination on the ravages of old age.

"The Eldtritch Faith" is quite simply an achievement, a symphony that includes all of the instruments that make up the settings and textures of the best modern supernatural/Weird fiction.  I love this story the way I love "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "The Great God Pan," "The Events at Poroth Farm," or "The House on the Borderland."  It's intimate, yet huge; fantastical, yet somehow seems rooted in a reality that very few of us know to be true, but of which all of us have an inkling, as the story begins with a boy looking for the presence that he knows lives in his basement, and ends up in places he - nor I - ever dared dream existed.  This is revelatory cosmic horror underpinned by the occult of our earthly traditions and limitations.  If someone told me they were curious about modern Weird fiction, and asked for suggestions, "The Eldritch Faith" would be on a very short and distinguished list.  As such, this novella ends the collection with a limitless bang, and sets up Gavin's next work as an absolute must-have.

At Fear's Altar - and Richard Gavin, as a fictionist, essayist, and general figure - is what Horror needs, if the forces of true creativity and innovation are going to battle back those armies amassed to exploit cheap parlor tricks, reconstituted dreck barely resembling the original article, and sparkly spook pap churned out to appeal to the widest and least interested portion of our population.  This collection has the power and vision to recapture the numinous and keep the steam train on the iron track, to bring respectability back to the genre, to keep the "H" big and proud.  If you're as goddamn hungry as I am, punt the cheeseburgers and pick up some Gavin.  Straight, no chaser.  Nothing watered down, boasting a full array of flavors resting on the tongue, waiting to be unlocked by the discriminating and tasteful.  The burning fluid in the glass that warms the gullet and fires the synapses, turning the mind to thoughts of the infinite and beautifully dark.

Instead of cursing me for subjecting you to yet another liquor metaphor (and two respective mentions of cheeseburgers), please instead scroll down a bit and dig into the discussion conducted with Richard Gavin in this fourth installment of The Cosmicomicon Book Review & Interview (the preceding three being Strantzas, Barron, and Cardin), which explores his views on supernatural fiction, his dream realized of working with S. T. Joshi, and his overall take on Horror and the unquiet Beyond that goes far beyond just story writing.

TC:  Allow me to softball the beginning, and to establish some background after grasping about in the dark above… You dedicate At Fear’s Altar to Clive Barker and Algernon Blackwood.  Aside from these two gents – or possibly including these two gents, depending on where you want to go - who are your biggest literary influences? 

RG:  Barker and Blackwood are definitely among my deepest and most enduring influences. In Blackwood I found an honest writer. His work encouraged me to speak of ineffable Nature as beautiful and terrifying at once, and to express my own reflections on the universe regardless of how these visions may clash with those of the culture and age in which I live.

Clive Barker was the writer I most wanted to be as a young man. The Books of Blood and The Hellbound Heart absolutely shattered my notions of what modern supernatural fiction could do. The eloquence of the prose, the almost religious heft of the images, the courage to push the envelope past the cozy campfire story model that other bestseller authors were producing, not to mention the genuine Artist’s conviction that Clive always demonstrates in interviews…these are just a few of the reasons behind At Fear’s Altar’s dedication.

Along with these writers I would say that my work is supported by three distinct but equally important pillars of influence:

The first will be obvious; the visionary Horror authors such as the two gents listed above, along with Lovecraft, Maupassant, Machen, Poe, M.R. James, T.E.D. Klein, Laird Barron, etc.

The second school is that of the realists. I’m a great admirer of Raymond Carver, Dorothy Parker, Eugene O’Neill, Flannery O’Connor; the authors who present small lives, very human stories, with photographic clarity. I openly admit that the supernatural authors have a much more potent influence simply because the realists, while offering great characters and tremendous prose, often lack what Arthur Machen called “the ecstasy of literature.” I need my work to resound from the depths of the human condition, to echo the outer dark.

The third influence stems from esoterica. The bulk of my library is occult books and many of these authors and practitioners --- Kenneth Grant, Austin Osman Spare, David Beth, etc. --- have enhanced my life experiences, which has resulted in, I think, supernatural fiction that is textured rather differently than the work of many of my peers.

TC:  In the same literary legends vein, I know you were personally saddened by the passing of Ray Bradbury this past year.  What did his work mean to you?

RG:  Bradbury was, like Blackwood, a very pure writer. What always resonated with me about his work was that he never presented the Gothic as ugly or repulsive. He wrote paeans to the dark. There are a number of Horror writers who erroneously equate Horror with the belief that life is ugly and endlessly agonizing. Their work is a pushing of the reader’s face into a steaming pile of offal. Bradbury was the opposite. His work says “Graveyards are beautiful. Skeletons are magical. Being scared is a good thing...”

Interestingly enough, at first glance one might assume that my novella “The Eldrtich Faith” is a Lovecraft pastiche because of its title, but many elements of that piece are steeped in Bradbury. I consider it a kind of parting letter to one of my lifelong favourite authors.

TC:  Your stories have a comforting classicism to them, yet still breach previously uncharted boundaries.  Is your writing in some small way a conscious nod to those writers who came before you, or is it just the purely unconscious outpouring of your organic creative Muse?

RG:  At this point I think the process is organic. The influence of the classic Horror writers is by now so distilled in my psyche that I don’t even notice it anymore.

But you are correct: I always want to push into uncharted boundaries. That’s crucial for me. One of the reasons I prefer being identified as simply a Horror writer instead of a writer of strange stories or what have you is that I don’t want the reader to assume I’ll be handling their psyche with kid gloves. I will never stoop to exploitation, but at the same time I make no promises about what kind of Horror my work will deliver. I’m forever pushing into new territory, conjuring what I hope are even more outré images and disquieting situations.

In some ways my creative drive can be summarized by a lyric from my favourite band, Tool: “I’m reaching for the random or whatever will bewilder me. And following our will and wind, we may just go where no one’s been.”

I want to push my work to the horizon, and then keep going. This has done me a fair bit of harm, professionally speaking. I’ll wager I have more rejection slips that read “We have no real criticisms, we just don’t know what to do with this story” than any other writer I know. My work was too weird, too deadpan, and too “cosmic,” I suppose, for most of the modern Horror magazines. But it was also far, FAR too hardcore for the more traditional ghost story journals. So for many years I was adrift with hardly any venues that were willing to publish me. 

TC:  In this world of uneasy Amazon compartmentalization, how do you define yourself as a writer?  You obviously revel in cosmic horror, and honor H.P. Lovecraft specifically in your tale “Faint Baying From Afar” (a sequel to HPL’s “The Hound”).  Do you consider yourself a Lovecraftian writer?  Has this ever-expanding label lost some of its luster with the glut of Mythos tales being written; and further, has that possibly become a stigma lately with more emphasis on his personally held views on race and other political and social issues that have been bandied about lately by other horror writers?

RG:  I usually identify myself as simply an author of supernatural Horror. That being said, I have seen the adjective “Lovecraftian” attached to my name more often than not, and it is a title I am very proud to bear. My only reservation with it is that it can be misleading to readers who come to my work expecting Cthulhu, etc. I have written stories that are overtly placed in Lovecraft’s universe (two examples can be found in At Fear’s Altar), but more often than not I’m attempting to reach that level of awe that Lovecraft himself strove for, but in my own way.

Gavin at HPL's grave in Swan Point (2002)
In my ‘teens I was utterly obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft. He remains a perennial favourite and a source of inspiration. This is part of the reason why working with S.T. Joshi continues to be such a surreal and rewarding experience. (More on this later.) So if we are talking about Lovecraft’s love for the ancient and ineffable, his passion for the weird and sinister affects of literature, his devotion to atmosphere and place, and his belief that supernatural Horror should have philosophical heft, then yes, I absolutely consider myself a Lovecraftian writer.

As far as Lovecraft’s racism goes, this is old news to anyone who has even a casual knowledge of HPL’s biography. I don’t share Lovecraft’s views on race, though I do resonate with his suspicion of and/or disdain toward humanity’s reflexive belief in “progress.”  Like Lovecraft, I can never be tied to raw new things.

Bashing Lovecraft as a xenophobic hack has become the hip thing to do on social networks and at conventions. While I’m not going to stop anyone from voicing their opinion, I will say that I’ve yet to see any of these detractors produce a cosmic tale that equals “The Colour Out of Space” or At the Mountains of Madness. Like it or not, HPL is a monument in the genre and that won’t ever change.

TC:  As noted in my review above, I consider you an authentically Occulted Writer, as your understanding and gleeful embrace of the True Dark is unmistakable.  What elements of your background and/or research have equipped you to write the stories that you create, which – for my money – are more rooted in the wider supernatural tradition?

RG:  Thank you for this question, Ted. I’ll do my best to answer it as succinctly as I can. Let the reader embrace or dismiss this as they will...

My stories may exhibit a deeper knowledge of that “True Dark” you mention, but of course that doesn’t make them better than anyone else’s stories. Nor does it make me a smarter writer. If there is uniqueness or an uncanny “heft” to my work, it is likely because my interest in this area is not academic. I live much of my life within that True Dark. What’s more, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I believe that the darkness, or the “Nightside” to use Kenneth Grant’s term, takes us to the horizon of our own knowledge, to the limits of our own experiences, and then introduces something Other, something from the shadows beyond our preconceived reality model. For some people just being brought to this personal horizon is strong enough meat. Others like me want to go beyond.

A careful reading of my work will reveal a variety of stories where the characters wish to know the monster, to experience the monster, and in some cases to become the monster. There is a primordial urge there. I’m not wagging my finger against the oozing primitivism the way M.R. James was. I’m pushing my characters, and by extension my readers, off the cliff’s edge and into the abyss. I want immersion, a sense of limitlessness.

One of my greatest inspirations is the British artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare. Many of his incredible drawings were created while he was in an altered state of consciousness. They were automatic drawings wherein he would rarely lift his pencil from the page, allowing the Spirits to guide his hand.

He believed, as do I, that works of art created under auspicious conditions act as “vessels.” They do more than present images; they convey the energies that informed those images. It is these energies (not the metaphor or image) that an audience responds to. The image is important because it is the vehicle that carries the essence, but there is always something behind true Image. This makes that magical bond of spirit to spirit, Muse to artist, artist to audience. It is a transference.

The energies that inform dark art can inspire an atavistic awakening. The best Horror plunges its claws right through the thin ice of logic and stirs up the cold dark waters of our subconscious. This is partly why one feels so alive when one is frightened by a supernatural piece. Whether ghosts or Yog-Sothoth or werewolves are physically “real” or not is completely redundant. One does not need to come away from any of my tales “believing in” the events they just read about. But hopefully they come away knowing something about the energies that churn beyond my images. Hopefully they experienced the cold touch of the ghost inside the machine, so to speak.

Spare used images and I use words. But in the end our art serves as a catalyst that allows its audience to enter an altered state just by experiencing the work. I relish the idea of stirring ancient feelings in modern readers, of rousing a sense that they are not a mere cog in some tidy civilization wherein all things are quantified and pat, but are instead part of a vast and haunted wilderness. My aim is to deliver primordial experiences.

My stories do not serve any particular spiritual tradition or religion per se. They are designed as shamanic tools that I hope will awaken the reader to his or her self. I’m not preaching any specific worldview. I want people to wake up to themselves, to realize the dark in their own way.

For me as the author, the tales are expressions of a larger, lifelong quest to explore the Nightside. They are footnotes to those moments when I have found my own horizons, found what Horrified me. My life is a continuous meditation within this True Dark.

This should explain why I’ve no interest in “branching out” into other genres. My tales are more than a literary construct to me. They are ligatures that connect me with the dark continuum that has been churning since primitive man first painted grotesques on the walls of Trois-Frères cave in France, if not earlier.

All this being said, I must stress that if someone reads my work simply to be creeped out for a few minutes, that is perfectly valid and is also flattering to me. If a shudder is experienced, I have done my job. One doesn’t need a working knowledge of occult practices in order to enjoy my work. I design the stories to be inclusive, not exclusive. My work is for all. The key is to FEEL something!

TC:  Following on that, is what you write best classified “Horror,” or do you place it someplace else?  Is there a need for subsets apart from just simply Horror?

RG:  “Supernatural” would be the only qualifier I would add, simply because all my stories possess one otherworldly element or another, but Horror suits the work just fine. I love this genre.

TC:  What is your take on the contemporary Speculative Fiction industry, and where do you want it to go, as a reader and a writer?

RG:  I confess to having a love/hate relationship with the Speculative Fiction industry. The love angle comes from having a lot of friends in the field who are smart, talented, and fascinating. It’s a very supportive realm. And of course I love the process of writing and working with skilled editors. All of these elements inspire me.

The hate element stems from my innate disdain for those who wish to live in a bubble. SpecFic and “fandom” fosters a phony alternate universe wherein people can drift from convention to convention, crawling up ever-further into their own heads.

This is anathema to me. The writers I value most are ones who write of this world, not of a pale metaphoric Middle Earth or a land beyond the Wardrobe, but a world in which we can/should be fully present. From Lovecraft’s vast cosmos to Machen’s haunted hills to Blackwood’s sentient woodlands to the submerged primitivism of M.R. James; these stories are about awareness, not escapism.

TC:  How long did it take you to write and assemble At Fear’s Altar?  How many stories did you complete before settling on the thirteen that made it into the collection, and how much rewriting did you do once you had chosen the stories?

RG:  The book took me about eighteen months to write. I omitted three stories and then S.T. and I agreed to replace one tale in the book with another. Most of the rewriting occurred before I submitted the manuscript to S.T., simply because I was terrified of disappointing him! S.T. then did some revisions with me and, unsurprisingly, all his suggestions vastly improved the tales.

TC:  The inimitable S. T. Joshi wrote the forward to At Fear’s Altar.  How did you hook up with Hippocampus, and arrive on Mr. Joshi’s creative radar (if, in fact, the two occurrences are unrelated)?

RG:  I’d been a fan of S.T.’s since I began collecting the Arkham House collections of Lovecraft that he edited. I followed his column in Weird Tales and therefore knew he was a stern critic of supernatural literature. For years I actively avoided sending any of my work his way for fear of what he might say about it. Finally in 2009, after Dark Regions Press published my third collection, The Darkly Splendid Realm, I mustered up my courage and emailed S.T. to introduce myself and politely inquire if he might be interested in a copy of my book.

Imagine my shock and delight when S.T. informed me that he was already familiar with my work. I sent him the new collection and a few weeks later S.T. invited me to submit to his anthology Black Wings II. His acceptance of my story “The Abject” was marvelously enthusiastic. In early 2011 I decided to roll the proverbial dice by asking S.T. if he’d be interested in considering my next collection as a Hippocampus Press title. He (provisionally) accepted the book sight-unseen.

Working with S.T. on this and other future anthology projects is an immense honour. All I’d wanted to do with my career is create stories that might be considered contemporary additions to the linage of the great weird tale writers of the past. Being taken in as a kind of protégée of S.T. Joshi’s has certainly felt like a fulfillment of this goal.

TC:  This is your fourth collection.  Do you find writing becoming easier?

RG:  No. If anything it’s more difficult now. I’m much harsher on the stories, setting increasingly higher demands on myself. I keep going because I want to convey visions of even greater intensity and awe, to deliver prose that is ever-smoother and more potent.

TC:  Based on the book’s title, and after discovering and reading the collection prologue “A Gate of Nerves,” I was expecting each tale that followed to be a tribute to fear.  I think I was chasing black rabbits, looking for something that wasn’t intentional.  Am I off here?  And if so, what was the purpose of the seemingly open-ended prologue?

RG:  “A Gate of Nerves” was employed to place the reader in a particular headspace. The prologue is rooted in the Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, which was a Japanese Buddhist practice that later became a kind of parlour game wherein participants would tell ghost stories and blow out candles one by one. The intention was to “invoke” a spirit or entity that would reveal itself after the final candle was extinguished. The reason I referenced this particular ritual was to alert readers to the fact that supernatural tales have been, and can be, used for something more meaningful than whiling away a few moments. They create thickened atmospheres where our surroundings suddenly feel sentient.

Once that gate of nerves parted, the rest of the stories exhibited different ways that fear can rebirth us. We might not always like what we are being awoken to, but our awareness is sharpened all the same.

The reason why fear was not “celebrated” in an overt way is because fear (or more accurately, Horror) is best evoked rather than dissected. It is not an academic principle. We can analyze it, discuss it, theorize why it is we are or are not drawn to it, but in the end it is a force that erupts in spontaneous ways. The ancients called this startlingly immediate and untrammeled awareness of the Now “glimpsing the great god Pan.” In this sense, all of my stories are invocations of the great god Pan. 

TC:  Amongst the many extraordinary stories in At Fear’s Altar, “The Eldritch Faith” somehow stands out as a true achievement.  This is a harrowing, intimate, yet gargantuan tale, incorporating both cosmic horror and more material supernatural elements.  Where did this story come from, and how much of the protagonist in “The Eldritch Faith” is based on you as a young boy?

RG:  Thank you for your compliments. I confess that “The Eldritch Faith” is my favourite piece I’ve written.

The story stemmed from my wish to create something as panoramic as Comte de Lautremont’s Le Chants de Maldoror, and yet something that was also intensely intimate. The novella reads like a house of cards; each chapter building a very delicate piece of a pattern rather than a linear narrative.

In terms of the autobiographical content, I’m sure there’s more there than even I realize. I was blessed with a happy childhood, but I was certainly a weird kid. I really reached back to try and capture the feeling of playing imaginative games in my own basement as a boy. I also wanted to convey the sense that childhood is a very magical time where we have not compartmentalized reality. We exist in a strange, almost non-dualist state of being. We lose that as we mature. 

TC:  You deal with some explicit themes on occasion, but you rarely, if ever, use coarse/explicit language, and sexual imagery is described in an almost archaic, modest way.  This was striking to me in a genre that often “works blue,” at best, and at times seems to relish in the perverse and graphic.  Is your delicate dealing with such situations intentional, or a natural outgrowth of something more natural?

RG:  It’s definitely intentional. When I’m writing a story where the aim is to instill in the reader a sense of awe or feelings of disquiet or what have you, I need to be careful that nothing steals the thunder of that intended purpose. Sex and violence are the screeching, clattering tools in a writer’s toolbox. Go ahead and employ them, but be aware that those may be the only elements a reader takes from your tale if you’re not careful.

Sex has been included in a lot of my stories actually and it will continue to be. It’s one of the great primal-level mysteries or drives that I like broaching. I’d rather have a sex-heavy story than a violent story.

I try to use violence as sparingly as possible. It’s too easy and too often tasteless. Everyone’s scared of being physically brutalized. They don’t need constant reminders of this fact.  I’d rather attempt to stir a sense of the numinous or the ghostly instead of churning the reader’s stomach.

TC:  By all accounts, you’ve made your bones exclusively as a short fiction writer, yet the refrain of “the novel is king” pervades the entire literary industry, regardless of genre, and I’m guessing it echoes in the mind of every short fiction author.  What is your take on the widely held notion that a modern writer of fiction must produce a novel to truly achieve success, creatively or commercially?

RG:  Karl Edward Wagner once wrote about a survey that was conducted in the 1970s in which publishers looked at who in the United States were the biggest book consumers. They determined that commuters in New York City was their biggest demographic. These commuters were polled about what types of books they like to read. The majority of them preferred novels. Thus, New York mass market publishing houses turned their focus to novels, at the expense of almost every other kind of book. This should give people an idea of how solid a foundation the “novel is king” worldview stands upon: a forty-year-old demographic survey designed to maximize a quick buck for publishers of potboilers.

To be honest, I don’t know what level of “success” writers can even achieve anymore. The days of “The Lottery” causing a cultural tempest are long gone. I don’t know if our contemporary culture values authors the way it once did. So when I see authors jumping through hoops in the hopes of “getting discovered” I feel nauseous. It’s truly pathetic. The only success a writer can have is to write fully of themselves and for themselves. Everything else is fleeting.

TC:  We are both contributors to Matt Cardin’s The Teeming Brain, the megasite devoted to the discussion of consciousness, horror, philosophy, religion, and other esoteric elements that bridge and imbue the Dark.  What do you enjoy about non-fiction writing, and what can readers look for in upcoming installments of your column “Echoes from Hades”?

RG:  Writing non-fiction allows me to explore themes more directly than I can in fiction. You can look forward to my essay explaining how I believe that all my fiction is, in a sense, heartfelt invocations of the great god Pan.

TC:  Richard Gavin.  Simon Strantzas.  Ian RogersGemma FilesGord RolloJohn R. LittleMichael KellyMonica KueblerBrett SavorySandra Kasturi.  Helen Marshall. Nancy KilpatrickKelley ArmstrongDouglas E. Wright…  A Canuck murder’s row.  Canada has stormed into the Weird and Horror Fiction game lo the last decade, from writing to publishing.  What did they dump in the mountain spring water of the Great White North that has produced such an uptick in outstanding Dark Fiction writers since the dawning of the 21st century?  Is the home of comedy becoming the new home for Speculative Fiction? 

RG:  I wish I knew. I love living in Canada. No country is perfect of course, but Canadians have little to complain about. We have free healthcare, a high standard of living, little violent crime, and (for the most part) a very relaxed atmosphere. Canada is also a vast country with a small population spread across vastly differing terrains. We are geographic neighbours with the U.S. but have more ties with the Brits. We’re kind of culturally adrift in this respect.

So perhaps all these elements all combine to make Canadian dark fiction unique, the same way that Finnish or South African or Russian speculative fiction would be.

TC:  What’s next for you on the writing front, and what are you looking forward to in 2013?

RG:  I am working on another book. But I’m a painstaking writer, so I have no idea when it will be ready.

Next year I’m looking forward to the new collections by Nathan Ballingrud, Matt Cardin, and John Langan. I’m also excited about NecronomiCon, the Lovecraftian convention happening in Providence in August.

TC:  Thank you very much, Richard, for spending your valuable time sharing with the readers of The Cosmicomicon.  Allow me to wish you a healthy, happy, and hugely productive New Year.

RG:  Thank you, Ted. It’s been a pleasure. All the best to you and yours.

Do yourself a favor - get more Gavin, starting with At Fear's Altar and working backwards, with The Darkly Splendid Realm, Omens, and Charnel Wine.  Any serious reader of contemporary WeirdFic and Supernatural Horror must have these tomes on their shelves.

Richard Gavin is The Cosmicomicon approved.  Far more importantly, he's S. T. Joshi approved.  And that, my friends, is saying something.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Come Play in Punktown: Miskatonic River Press Adapts the Famed CyberCraft Horror World of Jeffrey Thomas into New Role-Playing Game

Punktown RPG cover art by Mariusz Gandzel
One of the exciting powers wielded by writers of fantastical fiction is the atoms-up creation of worlds insider their minds - actualizing "real estate," as I call it, usually when grumbling that the story I am working on has too much of it, which makes the fabricating of each square foot all the more time consuming. Those writers who set their tales in modern, contemporary, and/or familiar settings don't need to constitute much real estate at all, as it has already been shaped and realized by that helpful imp called Reality. Even Lovecraftian writers aren't burdened with carving much ariable land out of the wilderness, as a slightly built man from Providence - and many of his inspired disciples - have done much of the heavy lifting for us.

But those who peer into the blackness, wave their magic quill, and bring navigable conjure real estate from the formless void are doing real, strenuous work, which also carries with it a high threshold for reward. Being a Creator of Place gives the scribe total control over the physics, laws, and makeup of everything inside that new sphere of metaphysical existence.  They are God of this Place, and that is heady stuff.

Renowned author (and one of my favorite living horror writers) Jeffrey Thomas has played God, and birthed forth a dark, dangerous place of neverending possibility and infinite pain called Punktown.  To crib his official bio, Thomas is a prolific writer of science fiction and horror, best known for his stories set in the nightmarish future city called Punktown, such as the novel Deadstock (Solaris Books) and the collection Punktown (Ministry of Whimsy Press), from which a story was reprinted in St. Martin's The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror #14. He has been a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award (Best First Novel) for Monstrocity, and a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Deadstock.

For decades, Thomas has penned novels and short stories of futuristic horror set in the far flung megalopolis Punktown, amassing a history tome filled with dread and cover-wrapped in blood, splayed out under a cold cosmos populated by Elder Gods and chugging space freighters. Punktown is a Weird fiction classic, and now - thanks to the inspired minds at Miskatonic River Press - you, dear reader, have been invited to walk the dingy streets, mix amongst the indigenous Chooms, hard scrabble human immigrants, and a murderous mix of alien races, mutants, clones, and sentient machines.  This is Lovecraftian Cyberpunk (or CyberCraft, as I call it ).  This is Sci-Fi Noir.  This is the real estate of Punktown, and now you're allowed inside, to do as you will, and certainly as you must.

Indeed, Punktown is now set to roll out as a Role-Playing Game.  Now, it can be your turn to play God, making note to mind your Elders, by picking up Punktown: An RPG Setting for Call of Cthulhu and BRP.

Miskatonic River Press, in their infinite wisdom, recently selected Thomas' Punktown universe as one of their newest settings, writing Punktown: An RPG Setting for Call of Cthulhu and BRP for the famed BRP system, allowing Call of Cthulhu players and keepers to play in Punktown, as the game was created to be completely and seamlessly compatible with Call of Cthulhu and Chaosium's many other game settings.

A Kickstarter is up and running to help fund this fantastic project.  Fans of RPGs, CoC, and of Jeffrey's Thomas' exceptional fiction can click here and pledge a little to make this happen.  Much like NPR and Public Television, you need to pay a little up front to get the good stuff in the end.  You've gotta' back what you love.  This is no different.  Funding this project via Kickstarter will cast a ballot for quality, and bring a new CyberCraft world into the gaming universe.

To provide a bit of context and background on the project, we may as well go straight to the horrorist's mouth, so to speak.  For those who missed it, Thomas answers all the questions you might have in his recent addition to the winding cybersnake The Next Big Thing, published last week on his Punktalk (Confessions of a Punktowner) website:

(1) What is the working title of your next book?

Right now the publisher, Miskatonic River Press, is calling it: Punktown: An RPG Setting for Call of Cthulhu® and BRP. Because that just about says it right there. The book will a role-playing game guide based on my dark future world of Punktown, which is the setting of many of my novels and short stories. The game will be compatible with the Call of Cthulhu® and BRP systems.

(2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

It was suggested to me by Michael Tresca — author of the nonfiction book The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games and the novel The Well of Stars, among others — that my milieu of Punktown would make a great setting for a role-playing game. He started constructing a set of “core rules” based on his extensive reading of my Punktown material, devoting chapters to game mastering, character types, powers, weapons and technology, aliens and creatures, etc. All the aspects of Punktown that make my stories set there so varied: now at a gamer’s disposal. Once we had these core rules to present, Mike took them to Tom Lynch, president of Miskatonic River Press, and Tom was sold on the project. Tom then invited writers Brian M. Sammons and Glynn Barrass onboard, based on their experience with gaming and their enthusiasm for Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, to write game scenarios for the book.

(3) What genre does your book fall under?

My Punktown stories are a fusion of science fiction, horror, noir, pretty much any genre or subgenre that strikes my fancy. They’ve been variously described as cyberpunk and New Weird, but when I write one I don’t think in terms of genre…I’m just going to take another trip to Punktown. And incidentally, I’ve always written each Punktown story — whether short story or novel — so that it could exist on its own, without a reader having to catch up on any other Punktown story first. I’ve even utilized the Cthulhu Mythos in some of my Punktown stories, most notably in my novels Deadstock and Monstrocity, so gamers are going to be able to play Call of Cthulhu® -type scenarios in a refreshing new setting…a dystopian far future setting. But they can also leave the Mythos out entirely if they’d rather. The possibilities — and dangers — in the city of Punktown are endless.

(4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Besides having inspired the game’s setting and monitoring all material to make sure it’s consistent with the Punktown universe, my own contribution to the book is two original short stories…included as an introduction to the game’s world through the creator’s eyes. It’s hard for me to imagine who might play the characters from those stories — particularly since one story’s protagonist is Jeremy Stake, the private eye hero of my novels Deadstock and Blue War. Stake is a mutant with the ability to change his appearance at will (and sometimes even against his will). In his natural state, he has an oddly bland, android-like face. But I suppose if I had to pick an actor to play him, it would be Ryan Gosling. Thirty years ago I would have said Christopher Walken.

(5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

This book offers the foundation for an entire role-playing game compatible with the Call of Cthulhu® and BRP game systems, set in the nightmarish future city of Punktown, but will also appeal to non-gamers with its new fiction and a core set of rules that can serve as a kind of fanciful encyclopedia from another world.

(6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Neither. As I say, the publisher is Miskatonic River Press, and I don’t have an agent. I’ve only ever self-published one book, my collection Aaaiiieee!!! in its original incarnation (an expanded hardcover edition was later released by Delirium Books). For me, self-publishing isn’t nearly as rewarding as having a publisher invest money, time, and faith in my work. But to fund this book, the publisher feels the best approach is to use a Kickstarter campaign, to make the book the very best product it can be. The Kickstarter for the project, which closes on December 19th, can be found here:

(7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The project has been ongoing for a couple of years now, and it’s still underway. At this writing I’ve finished one and a half of my two tales, and the book’s game scenarios still need to be written by the book’s other contributors. But the core rules of the book, as I said before, are complete at a meaty 37,000 words.

(8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Punktown is sometimes compared to China Mieville’s New Crobuzon (Perdido Street Station) and Jeff VanderMeer’s city of Ambergris (Finch), and I suppose there’s a superficial resemblance. Those settings also combine elements of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, but in such a fusion that the borders and limitations of genre dissolve. I’d call their work fantastical or imaginative fiction, if I had to label it at all. Same with my Punktown work.

(9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As I say, the idea to turn Punktown into a game setting was Michael Tresca’s. Thanks, Mike!

(10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest? 

Artwork! There are going to be interior illustrations…there’s even talk of a map of Punktown (I’ve never tried to map out my city before!)…and the cover — ohh, the cover! I’ve been watching it develop, in stages, at the hands of Polish artist Mariusz Gandzel, and even though he’s only just begun laying in color the thing is looking magnificent. It’s a wraparound cover, very exciting in composition, and I think it’s worth the price of the book itself!

Tis the season to give.  The added bonus is when you pledge funds to Punktown The Role-Playing Game, you not only support dark fiction writing, small press, and RPGs, but you are pre-ordering a gift to be delivered after all of the holiday bows and ribbons are put away and forgotten til next year.

Check out the Kickstarter page, watch the vid, then shake out those pockets and back this puppy.

And besides, do you really want to let down this dude below?  Who knows what Tom Lynch is going to do with that gun...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tag, You're It: The Cosmicomicon Joins in the Electronic Parade of The Next Big Thing

cover art (c) by Arnaud de Vallois
Author, screenwriter, devoted Star Warsian, and fellow Weirdo Angelino Edward M. Erdelac was kind enough to tag me into The Next Big Thing on his blog posting last week, in which he discussed his most recent novel Terovolas, which is available now from JournalStone Publishing.

Here's a synopsis taken from his excellent blog Delirium Tremens:
"Following the events of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and his killing of the nefarious count’s vampiric wives, Professor Abraham Van Helsing commits himself to Dr. John Seward’s Purfleet Asylum, suffering from violent recurring fantasies, where he is diagnosed with melancholic lycanthropia. 
Upon his discharge, seeking a relaxing holiday, Van Helsing volunteers to transport the remains and earthly effects of Quincey P. Morris back to the Morris family ranch in Sorefoot, Texas. But when he arrives, he finds Quincey’s brother Cole embroiled in escalating tensions with a neighboring outfit of Norwegian cattle ranchers led by the enigmatic Sig Skoll. 
Men and animals start turning up dead and dismembered. Van Helsing suspects a preternatural culprit, but is a shapechanger really loose on the Texas plains, a murderous cult, or are the delusions of his previously disordered mind returning? He must decide soon, for the life of a woman may hang in the balance…"

In turn, I tag the following Filthy Five:

Matt Cardin
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
Jeffrey Thomas
Brian Sammons
Peter Rawlik

As now one of the It, I will answer the ten stock questions below, and then pay this hot potato forward.

Hope you enjoy.

1)    What is the working title of your next book?

I Am Death, Cried the Vulture, a joint collection of short fiction by me and my wife - author, editor, essayist, and intergalactic heartbreaker Ives Hovanessian.

2)    Where did the idea come from for the book?

My co-author.  My co-pilot
I was offered a short fiction collection deal last year, and then Ives and I were offered a joint collection deal at the beginning of this year.  While both sounded great, and were huge honors, it seemed as time wore on and various issues arose, it made more sense to cut out middle management, fold my solo collection into the joint collection, and put out our debut joint collection ourselves (which was a goal of ours all along), allowing us complete control of cover, layout, format, platform, paper quality, binding, length, story selection, release timing, print run, deluxe editions, marketing, etc.  Not to sound like control freaks, but all of those things matter to us, as we take the tactile and sensory experience of reading a timber and ink book very, very seriously, while also realizing the importance of having an eBook version available for those who prefer it.  Moreover, as long time book buyers, we are keenly aware that the smallest things can be make or break when it comes to finding (and most importantly, keeping) a potential reader unfamiliar with your work, that only has a cover and a few blurbs to go on when deciding if they want to spend their hard earned money.  That window is very narrow, and you need to grab an interested party immediately.  Hence, we're going to publish it under our own banner, with I Am Death, Cried the Vulture serving as the launch release for SlaughterHaus Press, a boutique small press that will focus on writers and projects that we find exceptional, published with an eye on aesthetics and quality, respect for writers and artists, and a celebration of the enduring legacy of the physically printed written word.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Weird fiction, as a sub-genre.  Horror if viewed more broadly.  Anything from cosmic horror to ghost stories  to tales of murder.  The uncanny, the monstrous, the brutal, even the (twistedly) whimsical.  This is dark stuff, with lots of range and plenty of genre blending.  I think it has something for everyone who enjoys a wide swath of modern speculative fiction rooted in the Classics.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Hmm... As this question is most likely aimed at those participants discussing a novel, this might get a bit convoluted for raft of short stories.

Ben Foster - Poster Boy for Insanity
That said, throwing out a few of my stories that will be included in my portion of the collection, I think Casey Affleck would make for an interesting Boyd in "The Screamer."  Chris Evan could play the nameless protagonist in "Transmission."  For "Flutes," I'd love to see Ed Harris or Harvey Keitel play Assistant Director French, while Ryan Gosling, Cillian Murphy, or Ben Foster would be an interesting Dansby.

For "In the Cave, She Sang," I think Christian Bale could do a bang-up Charles Manson traipsing through Death Valley on the eve of a very momentous decision.  I think Mandy Patinkin would be a great father in the story "Twinkle, Twinkle," while James Caan and Susan Sarandon would be fantastic as the vacationing Vahlkamps in "Something We Ate."  Robert Duvall and Gene Hackman as the fishing buddies in "Beer & Worms," and James McAvoy in "Corpus Arcanum."  Daniel Day Lewis for my story "Old Whiskey," or any story I've ever written, will write, and would be forced to write if he said he wanted to play one of my characters.

 5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A collection of Weird fiction tales by T.E. Grau and Ives Hovanessian spanning the cosmos, the underground, and various shadowed places in between.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Neither of us have sought out representation as of yet, and although we could have relied upon a publisher to put out I Am Death, Cried the Vulture, we both opted to do it ourselves, for the reasons listed above.  DIY is the only way to ensure total satisfaction in the finished result.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Tough to say, as it's a collection of short fiction from two people, and is ongoing.  In the end, it will cover our writing from the last three years (2010-2013).  With our hectic schedules, various gigs, and penchant for rewrites, we're not the speediest scribes on the planet, but we do put in the work every day.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I dub "The Screamer" as an example of Lovecraftian Noir.  Ives' story "Dog Will Hunt" has been compared to Lansdale, and is a Weird Western with a streak of wrathful black running through it darker than most anything else going.  These are our two anchor tales, as they have received the most feedback.  Our other stories pretty much run the gamut of fantastical and supernatural fiction as noted above.  As for parallels to other books or authors, I think the collection will appeal to those people who read Richard Gavin, Matt Cardin, Simon Strantzas, Laird Barron, Landsdale, M.R. James, Bradbury, T.E.D. Klein, Ligotti, Lovecraft, Machen, Blackwood, etc., as the stories seem to twirl in those same wheelhouses, and have drawn thematic comparisons to many of the above from reviewers, readers, and peers.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The book was always going to be written, it just arrived sooner on the docket.  But what inspired us to  publish it ourselves was our goal of making a book interesting and worthy of purchase, and especially the time invested reading our book.  In every phase.  Inside and out.  A customer - and especially a reader - is worthy of that respect and extra care, as they are investing days/weeks/months with our words and world.  Because of this, we want to make the experience as wonderful as possible, as a way of showing thanks.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

Picking up I Am Death, Cried The Vulture is a chance for a reader to experience two writers in one book, who have differing styles and stories to tell, but are bound by a love of the unsettling, the terrifying, and the beautifully macabre.  A split collection, or an anthology of two.  It will also provide the opportunity to pick up what will (hopefully) be the first of many books to come by Ives and I, mostly individual.  We have plans for another joint collection, titled Dark Tales for Bright Children - which we will rename slightly, as people seem to think it's a kid's book, when in fact it is a very adult book about very bad things done by and to children.  Cheery stuff, right?  Welcome to Grau Haus...

+    +    +

Happy Thanksgiving, all.  Eat, drink, sleep, drink, eat, and be very, very merry.  Life's too short to not celebrate the lovely times.

Please keep an eye out for the responses of the above-named Now Its this coming Wednesday, November 28th.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

All Hallows Eve 2012: The Cosmicomicon Goes Hoody, Hunkers Down Local, and Celebrates Dia de los Muertos With Fellow Angelinos

Instead of our usual Euro-centric celebration of All Hallow Eve here at The Cosmicomicon, this year we've decided to do something a little bit different, and focus on a holiday that not only treads heavily on the Dark Plane, but jovially embraces the idea of Death much more than Halloween ever dared.  This ain't about Stingy Jack.  This is about something far more eldritch...

Trick-or-treating in nearby South Pasadena on Wednesday night aside, for our annual TC holiday posting, we've traded hollowed-out gourds for sugar skulls.  Scary rubber masks for skeletal makeup (rendered exquisitely by Ivy, as per usual).  October 31st for November 1st and 2nd.  We're going New World Old(est) School.

For 2012, The Cosmicomicon is giving a nod to the Aztecs, and celebrating Dia de los Muertos, known to us pasty-ass Anglos as Day of the Dead.  This practice of honoring - indeed, celebrating, in a refreshingly jovial way - the dearly departed was discovered by Spanish explorers (invaders) round about 500 years ago, and was deemed by the staunch Catholic interlopers as a heretical practice by the newly arrived Culture Marms.  Although his work is under lock and key, give Octavio Paz some love here.

Culturally, what followed is pretty standard - the attempt to systematically wipe-out a purportedly "pagan tradition" that had nurtured the incredibly advanced Aztec people for over 3,000 years.  Various forms of Dia de los Muertos (obviously named something different in the Aztec tongue) had been observed by millions of adherents in the Western Hemisphere whilst East Hem Europeans were pissing in caves and trying to grasp the concept of proper clothing and agriculture.  Didn't matter.  Once the Europeans arrived, this horrid tradition had to be stomped.  They tried.  So many died...  But the tradition survived, somehow, thank the gods....

With such a vast gulf of historical time, The Day of the Dead immediately conjured images of Egyptian and Sumarian death rituals that reenforces my shakily supported contention that the exceptionally advanced rise of Mediterranean (Atlantian) culture during the B.C.'s had offshoots in the Western  (and Eastern) Hemisphere, belying contact betwixt the two far flung land masses.  But I digress...  Prehistorical alien interaction, and all of that....  Someday the TC will go there, but let's stay on topic, shall we?

The Gawking Dead: Ives, T.E., Fish, shopping for terminally expired trinket
 Instead of trying to sound intelligent and well versed in Dia de los Muertos lore, I'll cut and paste from the cultural think tank that is Day of the Dead page on Wikipedia:
Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de los Muertos) is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico and around the world in other cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. It is particularly celebrated in Mexico, where it is a national holiday, and all banks are closed. The celebration takes place on November 1 and 2, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. They also leave possessions of the deceased.

Scholars trace the origins of the modern Mexican holiday to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. The holiday has spread throughout the world: In Brazil, Dia de Finados is a public holiday that many Brazilians celebrate by visiting cemeteries and churches. In Spain, there are festivals and parades, and, at the end of the day, people gather at cemeteries and pray for their dead loved ones. Similar observances occur elsewhere in Europe, and similarly themed celebrations appear in many Asian and African cultures.

This embrace of a Aztec/Mexican celebration of death is only fitting, as Grau Haus perches on a sturdy, palm-shaded cliff on the far northeast corner of Los Angeles, home to a mostly Latino population (currently weathering a slow onslaught of hipster gentrification).  This is Brown Town, and us interlopers are just paying rent.

I'd die for these two stunning Dead Girls.
So, as Ivy is a child not born but stripling-raised in the heart of Hollywood, and as Fish is truly a hatched and bred Angelino (with my red Nebraska ass playing piggy back), we decided this year to venture out and experience a true Los Angeles (which is majority Latino) festivity that was alien from our understanding of Halloween.

Just across town - about 20 minutes on the 101, sans traffic - nestled under the shadow of the damnable Siren Sign on the hill, is Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the final resting place for the human remains of Rudolph Valentino, Peter Lorre, and Douglas Fairbanks (as well as a grip of well-appointed Armenian, Russian, and Jewish folk).  This is the spot where Ives, Fish, and I (and various family and friends) spent most of our last two summer Saturdays, frolicking amongst the carefully interred dead, enjoying amazing DJs, popping corks, and watching an array of interesting films via Cinespia.

Anyhoot, let me stop clacking, and bust forth with the Day of the Dead pictures, which are far more compelling than any of my blathery verbiage.

Thank you for reading so far.  Let the gallery begin:

Wrasslin' with The Serpent.  Adam ain't got shit on me.  I even took off my jacket.  That's commitment, folks.
It's probably just an octopus (and delicious ceviche ingredient), but to me, it's most definitely You Know Who.
The Tourist (in the oddly bunched jacket) and the Resident.
The Shambling Mound (of Yarn).
St.. Bruce Lee, Deliverer of Death With a Single Blow, Patron Saint of "All Good Cretins Go to Heaven."  The first poster I ever tacked to my wall was of this man.
Soul Sister of Ives.
When I saw this, I immediately thought of my favorite Atheist S. T. Joshi... and the bones of finches.
Grinning Angel of Death.  The epitome of Day of the Dead.
A Gathering of The Ancients
Escorting the Bride of Death down the aisle to meet her Groom.

A beautiful embrace of the roots.
A Portal, melding the new with the profoundly old.
Posing with a monger of dead cuties.  Fish picked out a Burtonesque zombie kitten.  Of course she did.
Mausoleum winds beneath my wings.
Partially enveloped in in the Eternal Mysteries.
Guardian Angel and respectful Seeker.  Leg cocked to stay off hallowed ground.
A relative, hanging with the nuclear family.
Bro time with a true Nightmare.
The Girls of Grau Haus, posing with a Ghoul obviously hiding his giddiness under his sombrero.
Very few things are forever these days.  Zales (and vast, cutthroat South African gem interests) says it's a diamond.  Possibly.  But I know for certain that Hollywood will be forever, as with Death, and the Day we celebrate those who have passed on to the Great Unknown.  May they be happy, content, and pop in from time to time, to sip a cocktail and nibble a nice snack left for the those who have departed this mortal coil, but who will never be forgotten.

Happy Dia de los Muertos, my Mexican/Mestizo brothers and sisters, and all those getting up to speed (like me).  Hail the Dead.  Hail the Living.  Hail the Living who honor the Dead and those who are unafraid to look into the Ultimate Abyss and smile, unafraid of the adventure to come.  May I be one of those brave souls someday.

BTW, Ives, Fish, and I have tentative plans to set up an Alter Site at the Hollywood Forever Day of the Dead fandango next year.  If we have the time and gumption (read as: time between ever-present deadlines), trust that it'll rep all the best of Weird fiction, Lovecraftiana, and a beautifully rendered (have you SEEN Ives' design work?) tribute to the sad beauty of those persons, places, and things that have shrugged off this plain and stepped boldly into the mysterious environs of the Great Beyond.

(please explore Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz for a) amazing poetry, and b) some damn fine background on Dia del los Muertos)