Sunday, January 31, 2016

An Excellent Edition of a So-So Story

It's amusing to read S. T.'s Introduction to this wee volume--because he must have felt inclined to say positive things about this late story by Lovecraft.I mean, you don't write an introduction to a book you want to see sold and say therein, "Urm, this story rather sucks." Joshi is rather more upfront about ye story's flaws in his entry concerning it in An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia: "While the tale contains vividly cosmic vistas of hyperspace, HPL does not appear to have thought out the details of the plot satisfactorily. What is the significance of the Old Ones in the story? To what purpose is the baby kidnapped and sacrificed? How can HPL the atheist allow Keziah to be frightened by the sight of a crucifix? Why does Nyarlathotep appear in the conventional figure of the Black man? . . . It seems as if HPL were aiming merely for a succession of startling images without bothering to fuse them into a logical sequence."

I have never read a horror story expecting that it will present a narrative of logic and realism; yet "The Dreams in the Witch House" does seem rather a mess. Nyarlathotep is my favourite of Lovecraft's dark beings, and he is utterly wasted in this story, appearing for no reason whatsoever and adding nothing to ye narrative. Some have complained that the story is poorly written, but I find its prose almoft as good as that found in Lovecraft's finest works. Let's take a look at ye opening paragraph.

"Whether the dreams brought on the fever or the fever brought on the dreams Walter Gilman did not know. Behind everything crouched the brooding, festering horror of the ancient town, and of the mouldy, unhallowed garret gable where he wrote and studied and wrestled with figures and formulae when he was not tossing on the meagre iron bed. His ears were growing sensitive to a preternatural and intolerable degree, and he had long ago stopped the cheap mantel clock whose ticking had come to seem like a thunder of artillery. At night the subtle stirring of the black city outside, the sinister scurrying of rats in wormy partitions, and the creaking of of hidden timbers in the centuried house, were enough to give him a sense of strident pandemonium. The darkness always teemed with unexplained sound--and yet he sometimes shook with fear lest the noises he heard should subside and allow him to hear other, fainter, noises which he suspected were lurking behind them."

I see that opening paragraph as near-perfect in setting mood and faintly establishing curious character. I see no evidence of "overwriting," and the language flows with a natural grace. I love the subtle hints of things that will blossom into full horrors as ye tale progresses. The setting may be consider'd Lovecraft's toying with ye "haunted house" genre, as he did with "The Shunned House" and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Lovecraft would then expand on this theme and depict areas of haunted realm, localities of dangerous weirdness.

The story has its defenders, ye moft eloquent and intelligent being Fritz Leiber, whose magnificent essay is publish'd following the story text. There is also a foreword by Stuart Gordon, who filmed the story for Showtime's Masters of Horror series. The illustrations in this PS Publishing edition, by ye fabulous Pete Von Sholly, are for ye moft part excellent--although one of them in particular seems just a bit "over-ye-top," to mine eyes. There is one superb depiction of Nyarlathotep, on page 31. Pete has also supplied a number of illustrations for Stuart Gordon's awesome Foreword, including a macabre portrait of Gordon in a "Dr. West" environment that is beyond cool. 



Saturday, January 30, 2016

Dreamland Novel Completed!

 Above is a wee area on Benefit Street in Providence, Rhode Island, adjacent to ye Shunn'd House. When I look at this photo, I am struck with how dreamlike my time spent in Lovecraft's hometown now seems. Indeed, I dream of Providence often. Lovecraft evoked his love for Providence in his work, but never more poignantly than in ye climax to his novella of 43,100 words, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. That work has been heavily on my mind this past year, as David Barker and I work'd on our full-length novel set in Lovecraft's dreamlands. I recently wrote my final chapter for our novel--and just a wee while ago I got an email from David announcing that he has finish'd ye final chapter!! Great Yuggoth--our novel is completed! It feels a bit unreal. 
I've been thinking of Lovecraft's novel of late, and dipping into it as I prepar'd to review ye edition of it in PS Publishing's illustrated edition, featuring amazing artwork by Pete Von Sholly. My review is now up at Amazon. Lovecraft destroy'd a lot of stories with which he was displeas'd, and I think we may have lost some really cool tales; so it feels extremely fortunate that, although he never polish'd "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" or prepar'd it for publication, he didn't destroy the manuscript for it--or for that other unpolish'd work, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

It's so compelling, Lovecraft's world as found in his complete fictional oeuvre. I return to it continually, sometimes just to read the stories and enjoy them simply as cool weird fiction; sometimes reading them slowly and studying Lovecraft's prose, his ideas, recurring motifs, &c &c. I never try to write "like" Lovecraft--but I think his narrative tone much have crept into my own prose style, because one of the "compliments" I get in reviews is that my stuff reads as if it were a lost Lovecraft manuscript. A rather dubious accolade, when one is trying to write in one's own personal style.

Writing a novel was hard work, my dears, and I much prefer working in ye short story format. Still, it feels like a wondrous accomplishment, to have work'd on an actual novel with my friend. Maybe someday I'll agree to do it again.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Joshi Carries On!!!


S. T. has just posted a new blog www.stjoshi.org/news.html, in which he has listed all the books he has recently or is now working on. It's rather impressive.
Books already edited, some of which have been publish'd:
For Centipede Press:
Robert Aickman (2 vols.)
John Metcalfe
D. H. Lawrence
J. Sheridan Le Fanu
E. F. Benson (2 vols.)
Robert W. Chambers
W. C. Morrow (compiled with Stefan Dzeimianowicz)
Bram Stocker (Library of Weird Fiction)
Ambrose Bierce (Library of Weird Fiction)
Arthur Machen (Library of Weird Fiction)
W. H. Pugmire, An Ecstasy of Fear and Others
For Dark Renaissance Books:
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Lost Ghosts
E. Nesbit, From the Dead
Irvin S. Cobb and Gouverneus Morris, Back There in the Grass
Theophile Gautier, The Mummy's Foot
Thomas Burke, Johnson Looked Back
W. W. Jacobs, Twin Spirits
For Other Publishers
H. P. Lovecraft, Letters to Robert Bloch and Others (Hippocampus Press)
H. P. Lovecraft, Collected Fiction: A Variorum Edition, Volume 4 [collecting Lovecraft's revisions & collaborations] (Hippocampus Press)
Varieties of the Weird Tales (Hippocampus Press)
Lord Dunsany, The Ghost in the Corner (Hippocampus Press)
Black Wings V (PS Publishing)
H. L. Mencken, A Saturnalia of Bunk (Ohio University Press)
The Cold Embrace: Weird Stories by Women (Dover)
Gothic Lovecraft (Cycatrix Press) [co-edited with Lynne Jamneck]

and books that S. T. is currently working on:
H. P. Lovecraft, Letters to Duane W. Rimel and F. Lee Baldwin (Hippocampus Press)
Varieties of Crime Fiction (no publisher determined)
The Red Brain: Great Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (Dark Regions Press)
Tribute volume for Caitlin R. Kiernan (Centipede Press)
Black Wings VI (PS Publishing)
Nightmare's Realm (Dark Renaissance Books)

Honey, any time I'm feeling over-productive, I just think on this list and have a wee laugh at ye idea that I am overdoing it with creative work.

I'm having din-din with S. T. to-morrow. You know, he's lived here in Seattle for quite a while now, and yet I still have to pinch myself at ye idea of the World's Leading Lovecraft Scholar/Editor living in my home town. It's like some eldritch dream!
ye Nameless Crew: S. T. and Mary, Maryanne and Greg, me and me Mum



Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Ye Barrier Between

I wanted to write a story about a monstrous tree, and so I search'd for such on Google and found this magnificent specimen. Ye burls at the bottom of the trunk actually inspir'd one of my story's characters and help'd to give me the idea that the story shou'd not make sense. The "barrier" in the title is the psychic wall that separates reality from dream, reason from insanity, life from death. The story is intended for an anthology concerning dreams and nightmares to be edited by S. T. Joshi, and I completed ye polish this morning. I wrote it in a different manner than usual. I like to write a story slowly and polish portions as I go along. I decided I wanted this new thing told in three separate segments; and so I wrote the first segment in rough draft, and then I typed it in polish'd form. I then wrote the second segment in rough, and then that portion in polish. Yesterday I worked on the rough of the final section, and last night I typed much of the polish, which I then completed very early this morning. (Ye writing of a new story often disturbs my ability to sleep; I keep churning over the tale and its scenes in my mind, and finally I need to leap out of bed and get to ye keyboard.) I also try'd to write a story that was in no way Lovecraftian. I have to get into ye habit of writing non-Lovecraftian stuff for this new book I am writing with Jeffrey Thomas, a second collection of Enoch Coffin tales. Jeff and I have decided to try and make the book non-Lovecraftian; but that will be difficdult for me because Enoch lives in Boston, and I cannot think of that city without seeing its Lovecraftian aura. 

Anyway, my new story comes to 2,870 words, a good length. I try now not to exceed five-thousand words when writing some new thing, with 3,000 words as my ideal length. 

Although this new story is in no way Lovecraftian )at least I hope not!), Lovecraft did indeed inspire my approach. There is in Lovecraft's fiction a nebulous nature, and we cannot be certain if what we are reading is the record of an actual incident or the memory of a dream. Or something in-between. I noticed this aspect of Lovecraft's fiction clearly last year, when I was rereading "The Music of Erich Zann" in the handsome Variorum edition of Lovecraft's Work. The entire mood of the piece is one of mystery and faint enchantment--but it then becomes outlandishly weird, to the point where incidents don't make sense.
[spoiler alert--if ye haven't read ye story, you may not wish to proceed with reading my investigation of its conclusion]
Here is ye ending of that tale as recorded by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz in their An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia:
"...a sudden gust of wind catches up the manuscript and bears it
out the window. As the narrator attempts to save it, he gains his
first and last look out that lofty window, but sees 
'only the blackness of space illimitable, unimagined
space alive with motion and music, and having no
semblance to anything on earth.'
The narrator runs into Zann in an effort to flee, encountering
the mad player still playing mechanically even though he
seems to be dead. Rushing from the building, he finds the
outside world seemingly normal. But he has, from that time,
been unable to find the Rue d'Auseil."
Now this is all very strange. What is this aspect of nightmare that impinges on sane reality? What is the narrator really seeing when he looks out the window and is encounter'd with naught but ye blackness of ye void? After having fled the place in utter fear, why does ye narrator then become obsess'd with finding the haunted street again, and what outre circumstance makes it impossible for him to find, ever again, the Rue d'Auseil (at least in wakefulness--we know not if, perchance, he finds it again--in dream). "The Festival" is another curious story, the beginning of which seems plausible enough, however weird; and the realistic events told by the narrator suddenly take on a bizarre aura. He is tramping through snow-filled streets with his ancestral throng, and he looks back to the area where they have just walked.  "I turned once to look at the outside world as the churchyard phosphorescence cast a sickly glow on the hill-top pavement. And as I did so I shuddered. For though the wind had not left much snow, a few patches did remain on the path near the door; and in that fleeting backward look it seemed to my troubled eyes that they bore no mark of passing feet, not even mine." What can this possibly mean? Is the fellow, who confesses to having "troubled eyes", hallucinating? It doesn't look solidly as if there were no footprints in the snow thus crossed--"it seemed". Nothing is for certain. Is this walk through snow something that happened, or ye memory of a dream? As the story progresses to its fantastic conclusion, the entire incident seems naught but sheer lunacy.

So I have used this aspect of blending the barrier between what is real and what is imagined, between reality and dream, and used it as the core motif of my new story. I sure hope S. T. likes it! He and Mary have just invited me over for dinner this coming week-end, so I'll find out then.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

David Bowie - Lazarus



I cannot watch this video, or listen to this song, without feeling ye chilly kiss o' Death. Ye idea of death has never disturb'd me until Bowie's sudden demise. I don't understand the effect of this artost's death on my psyche, but it has been profound. Perhaps because I am 64 years of age, a mere five year younger than Bowie. I am not often reminded of my old age except for the sometimes intense pain from my arthritis. Of course, when I gaze into the bathroom mirror while applying my makeup, I see an old geezer. I sometimes hear a scolding voice inside me mug, "What the hell are you doing, trying to look punk at your age." But then I hear the voice of Quentin Crisp: "I will tell you the advantage of growing old. As it's toward the end of the run, you can overact appallingly." Yet even the joys of being a drama queen grow old. 

And so I look at that image of David Bowie on his aesthetic death bed, looking like a blind man trying to find his way out of mortal existence--and I see that this magnificent human being remain'd an Artist until his very last days. And that is something I can try to apply to mine own existence, for however long I breathe, for however long I am able to write my fiction and therein express the hauntings of my antique soul.

Selah.