Sunday, March 28, 2010

UNCOMMON PLACES -- PART TWO

"Welcome to my home, Mr. Barnes. How young you look!"

"At twenty-seven I no longer feel so youthful," I answered.

"And that is too absurd. I have made you a small present." She tilted to a table beside her chair, and as she did so I noticed the weird medallion around her neck that swayed with the movement of her body. I suspected that the necklace was a present from one of her many artistic cronies, and it was certainly imaginative. The focal point of the thing was a vintage camera lens, onto which a metallic winged skull and miniature oval portrait had been mounted. I recalled having seen the skull design on stones in a New England burying ground, below which had been etched the words:
"Remember me as you pass by
As you are now so once was I.
As I am now so you must be.
Prepare for Death and follow me."
Miss Eliot reached with frail old hands and took up her small present, a sweater made of black and yellow candlewick fabric. Holding the garment in both hands, she offered it to me. I thanked her.

"Wear it well," she said in her pleasant gravelly voice.

I reached into my knapsack and produced an early edition of her poems, the sight of which moved her to sigh. "Will you honor me with a signature?" I handed her the book. She hesitated for many moments, then took my proffered pen and opened the volume to its title page.

"I always feel a vague precaution before signing my name. It probably stems from my witch heritage. The signing of one's name can be a potent -- at times a parlous -- thing." Smiling coquettishly, she guided my pen across paper and returned both pen and book to me.

"Yes, I've noticed the recurring witch motif in your work, especially the odd reference to some esoteric witch-cult whose members are interred face downward."

"The better to kiss the devil's buttocks," she laughed, and then she moved in preparation to rise. I stood and offered her my hand, which she clutched with her smooth dry claw. "No, leave your things here and follow me. I'll show you wonders of which you've dreamed. Come." She walked steadily enough, despite her advanced age, and led me to a massive door before which her tall lean servant stood. He had exchanged his taper for a candelabra on which three squat candles flamed, and in their light I could just make out the emblem that rose as scar on his forehead. The design was deliberate, and so I conjectured that the fellow liked to play with razor blade art, as was the fashion with so many youths in the alternative scene of the day. "Titus will guide us below," Miss Eliot confided as the fellow opened the door and began to descent pitted stone steps. We sank into an area that was nothing less than a subterranean art gallery, and the paintings that I eyed made me gasp. I walked to the wall on which the largest picture hanged, and as I admired it I could hear the wizened woman's raspy breathing near me. "What say you, sirrah? Was I not a stunning thing in youth?"

The background was a bent old tree in a cemetery, which I slowly recognized as Copp's Hill Burying Ground in Boston. The madness of the piece lay in the figures in the background, black things that rose like hungry shaggy shadows from the ground, things that in some few instances began to ape human design. One quasi-anthropomorphic thing was very near the woman in the foreground, bending as if preparing to kiss the palm of the woman's outstretched hand. That woman was a very young Delia Eliot --and she was magnificent. Pickman had captured, with perfection, the sorceress beauty of her powerful eyes, eyes that caught me completely in their spell. Her complexion was smooth and fair, and the only color in the painting was her very luxurious red hair. I turned to gaze at the little woman beside me, this shrunken thing that was nothing like her former self -- except for the eyes, those gems that held their violet beauty still. They gazed at me with potent emotion as I took up her hand and kissed its palm.

Candlelight was caught on the necklace that swung above her breasts, and I reached for that amulet and studied the antique camera lens that was its major feature. Her antique voice whispered, "It was from his camera, you know, the one he left behind when he -- went away. Ah, the images that were caught upon it! You can almost see a semblance of them, can't you, moving like blue and verdant shadows just beneath the surface?"

I lifted the round object closer to my eyes and scanned its cloudy surface, noticing that a tiny symbol had been etched onto the glass. It was a symbol that I had seen before. "I had a friend in Salem compose this piece of art. To wear it is to see the world as Richard saw it, in all its secret ghastliness. Oh, what rare souls we are -- we who love the secret things. Forbidden things." I shut my eyes and she wrapped her crooked fingers around the necklace and lifted it from her flesh. Reaching out, my hands touched hers and helped them guide the relic over my head. My brain could not endure the revelations that seared into it. I crumbled to the floor.

XVIII.
Icy shadow cools your boiling brain and gently wakes you.

You rise, in darkness, in an unfamiliar place, among strange scents and obscure memories. One single taper burns some distance from you, and its pale light pulls you like a moth unto it. You crawl across the floor, to the black shape that rests what might be human hand next to the flaming candle in its holder. Taking hold of that candlestick, you rise before the oblong box of pitted granite and gaze at the form within it, the frail old creature who lies face downward. Compelled, you bend to her and smell the essence of her senescent flesh and ancient hair. You move your nostrils to the still, still hand and gently kiss its palm. The thing that sways around your neck taps against the granite crypt. There are echoes in the air.

Waves of sound swim into your brain and vibrate vision. They push you to the canvas on the wall, into which you sink. Primordial wind embraces you as you stand among the black and tilting stones. The moon is pale, like a taper in a secret room. You feel its cool glow upon your fevered eyes. the eyes that watch the form that rises from its oblong granite bed. Beside it, another thing arises, black and formless, held in abeyance by the hand that soothes its hunger. They flow to you, these shadows,one so pale the other black as nightmare. Her tiny hand touches the relic at your breast and she admires herself on the surface of a vintage lens. Glancing down, you see how the moonlight plays upon the tiny symbol that has been etched onto the sphere of glass. You watch her white hand release the relic and rise to touch your eyes. You feel the nail that pricks your forehead and etches thereon the Elder Sign, and you smile as she lowers her hand so that the shadow-thing can lap your blood that stains it. That shaggy shadow rises next to its mistress, the faceless shadow that wears the sign upon the surface where a face should be.

You shut your eyes and lean against the venerable tree as the creatures bend to you, their hungry tongues upon your throat.

* * * * * * * * * * * ** ** * * * * **

Blast! Typing that I found some typos that I don't remember catching when I proofed "Uncommon Places" the final time, in the proof copy of the Centipede Press omnibus. Now I have to hunt for those proof pages I kept (where the hell did I stash them?) and see. I want that book to be as error-free as possible, but a little voice of depression and dispair tells me, "Ha ha! & it's all gonna be your fault!

UNCOMMON PLACES XVII.

by W. H. Pugmire

I walked across the Garrison Street bridge, stopping midpoint so as to watch the play of moonlight on the Miskatonic that flowed below me. I listened to the river water call with liquid voice, as if trying to coax me over the railing and into her depths; but I resisted temptation, for I had other abysses in which to plunge. Continuing my walk across the river bridge, to Water Street, I approached the antique house that was my destination. I contemplated the woman I had arranged to meet -- and possibly to paint. I knew that she was incredibly old, and that she lived in the darkened edifice, never shewing herself except in deepest night. A line from Ovid came to me: "Blemishes are hid by night and every fault forgiven; darkness makes any woman fair." Yet Delia Eliot was not any woman -- nor was she young and fair. No one knows how old she was in 1925, when Richard Upton Pickman painted her; and his canvases were certainly no indication, for in some of them she looked very young, little more than a teenager, while in others she was depicted as quite mature, a spinster in some shadowed room, seated at a spinning wheel.

Miss Eliot had earned a slight reputation as an underground bohemian poet, but I knew of her from my obsession with the Boston painter and his work. He was reputed to have completed thirteen canvases of her shortly before his mysterious disappearance. Using my criminal influence, I had obtained a small painting -- one of a series -- in which she was shown as an adolescent surrounded by dog-faced ghouls, with whom she was depicted as feeding. Pickman titled the work "The Lesson IV." I had no idea that this bewitching woman yet lived -- until I saw a recent painting of her at an exhibition in Salem. The artist assured me that, although incredibly aged, Delia Eliot was very much alive and dwelling in her mansion by the river in Arkham. It was her prejudice never to be photographed, and thus all images of her were aesthetic recreations. I remember how queer I felt as I gazed at that image of an elderly woman at her spinning wheel; although incredibly ancient, her face was recognizable as the visage that had apparently haunted Richard Pickman. She haunted me, now, and thus I arranged my meeting, after a few months of sporadic correspondence. Although my artistic talents are limited, I worked with a friend on a charcoal sketch of Richard Pickman, inspired by the one photo of him that I had been able to locate from a police report concerning his disappearance. She claimed to have been delighted with it and suggested that I come to visit her in the old house she had inherited in Arkham. And thus I found myself facing that magnificent old habitation in autumn moonlight. My knock at the door was answered by a fey man of indeterminate age who looked like Aubrey Beardsley dressed in formal attire and holding a taper. Softly, he spoke my name, and I nodded in acknowledgment; he then stepped aside and allowed me to enter the dark domain. The flickering candles, held in antique bronze sconces fastened to the yellow walls, threw dancing shadows on the servant's face, highlighting his gauntness -- the somber eyes and tapered ears. Curling his thin lips, he motioned for me to follow him through a hallway and into a room with walls of paneled oak.

She sat on a cushioned chair of red fabric, dressed in flowing black. I had expected her to be old, but the sight of her withered face with its high forehead and pale eyes shocked me. Her long white hair was covered by a black and silver lace mimkhatah that gave her a kind of frail beauty -- yet it was a morbid beauty, for her skin was so thin that one could easily discern the skull beneath the face. She smiled and motioned me to a chair, then nodded at the servant, who departed.

* * * * * * * * *

I need to stop as I'm expected a visit from my buddies, the Mormon missionaries. I will conclude this portion from Uncommon Places tonight. I am presenting here because, suddenly, to-day, I have decided that the only way to completely satisfy my obsession with H. P. Lovecraft's "Pickman's Model" is to write a wee novel inspir'd by HPL's story. I want it to be rather strange and rather sexy -- in a ghoulish way. I shall probably incorporate my invention of Delia Eliot into the thing. Yes, I know, I've said before, "Gonna write me a novel," & it never happens. But this, somehow, feels different. I've been wanting to write a wee weird novel for a publisher who likes sexy stuff, and I think I can be rather risque with this. It will be set in the 1920s, a real challenge, and it can concern itself with the poetry of that age, another of my obsessions. We shall see.

At any rate, my work on my other tale, "To Se Beyond" (a sequel to Bob Bloch's "The Cheaters") goes very well. I read a really piss-poor rough draft of Part II of that tale on YouTube, probably a mistake because my roughs are always very rough indeed -- but listening to that reading shew'd me errors and their resolutions. The polish of it I am now working on is quite satisfying.
So -- the work flows, & that is the best feeling in the world. More tonight, my darlings.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Spell of Writing

After a week of boring health concerns, my body has escaped its threshold of pain and discomfort that so plagued my brain that I was unable to concentrate of fictive creation. How I wish, now, that I had been more wise in regards to my health when I was young. I see now that, as we age, health is the one really important thing, so much else depends on it. Good health, or fairly good health, gives one a serenity of mind that allows one to function in life. This is especially true for me as a writer. When I write, I cast a spell over my psyche and becomes lost within a world of art. I think differently, I feel differently. I walk paths of emotion and mentality that are denied me in mundane reality. I dwell in the rich rare realm of Literary Art -- my home of homes, my place of sanity and peace. I function as I was meant to function.

I hope to complete a new prose poem tonight -- perhaps I shall finally write the one I have been wanting to write inspir'd by the silent film, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligary. It's strange, the timing of things, the way some pieces require days or weeks or years before they can spill from one's brain onto paper or be expressed while linked to keyboard. The "right moment" of ideas and inspiration can come like an eye-blink, not convoked by anything except a sudden desire to write.

I have been, this day, working on the story that is a semi-sequel to Bloch's "The Cheaters." I had a good portion of Part II written, but one of the new characters suddenly didn't feel "right" for the story, and so I deleted her and began again. The semi-rough is now at 2,900 words, and I feel that I have only just begun. Although I love returning to the prose poem form, I am also in the mood to write some new and lengthy novelettes. Yuggoth, how I hope one day to write a thing of 20,000 or 25,000 words! The portion of the tale I am working on now introduces a new Sesqua Valley character that is based on HPL's Erich Zann, a once-mute violin player named Jon-Eric le Seuil. This antient creature was once unable to speak, but coming to Sesqua Valley he was given the gift of speech, by way of diabolic magick, by Simon Gregory Williams. However, the process of speaking is a source of pain in the old man's throat, and so he does not often use this gift. Mostly, he uses it when accompanying himself when he plays his violin and summons arcane impressions from within the haunted valley; for when he softly hums he finds that there is no pain or discomfort.

Black Wings has been publish'd, & gobs of people seem to have copies -- but not me! Hey, I thought the writers were supposed to be the first to get copies of a book, in advance of book sellers and such. Ain't that the way it should be? I feel a bit distracted by this. I read most of the book in the file that S. T. sent as email -- but there were some few tales, by Laird Barron and Michael Shea and a few others, that I want to first read in the actual book. And I want to reread my own tale in hardcover. I confess that I really love reading my own fiction when it is first published in book form. I have a feeling that modesty is suppose to deny me this, or deny me the confession of it. We aren't supposed to enjoy reading our own stuff, just as we aren't supposed to enjoy doing a Google on ourselves and thus seeing what's being said about us. Screw that! Ego is everything. So, yes, I want to feel the weight of Black Wings in my hand, and then I want to turn to my story and read it on the printed page -- and hopefully find the text error-free! Can I confess, once more, how utterly amazing it feels to have a story in this book, the first original anthology edited by the world's leading Lovecraft scholar? I cannot cry loud enough how excellent it feels.

Well, enough talk about writing. I now returnto the actual doing of it.
Peace unto thee, my kindred.
--WHP

Monday, March 15, 2010

Your Ghost on Glass

All I had to do was return to HPL. This is a lesson I learn over again & again. If ye writing isn't coming forth, return to your Master Muse. He died on this day, this Ides of March, in 1937. It is appropriate to write a prose poem in his memory. I spent the morning reading sonnets in his honour on YouTube, and then doing a goofy vlog. And then I printed out a ghostly photograph of him, & it reminded me, again, of what a remarkable face he had -- haunted & haunted. I've had this title, "His Ghost on Glass," forever. I wrote a wee prose poem about Jessica Salmonson called "Her Ghost on Glass," which she publish'd in either Fantasy Macabre or Fantasy & Terror. Then I wrote a really suck-o prose poem, on this day some years ago, in memory of Todd, the young man I loved with all my soul, and who died in my arms on this day in 1995; & I called that "His Ghost on Glass." But it was maudlin and didn't feel authentic. It was more a paean to my self-pity than a genuine memory of intense & eternal love.

& thus, Howard, I gazed at that wonderful image of your remarkable face, & it came to me -- not easily, with gentle effort and cautious choice. I call it

"Your Ghost on Glass"
by W. H. Pugmire, Esq.

Ah, there you are again, within this mirror. Yet not completely, for your face is partially eaten by devouring shadow, the void that is caught inside your black reptilian eyes. What else do I see in those eyes? Loneliness, sorrow? Resignation? Ah, no -- I see the soul of a dreamer. Why is your stern mouth so clamped? Of what are you afraid to speak? No matter, I shall read your dark and liquid eyes. You died on this day, and how richly you haunt the universe. I sensed you once, in Providence, and spoke your name to shadow -- and how queer it was, to sense that shadow drink my hot mortal moan. Loneliness, sorrow? I know them well -- and yet how stupid they are compared to phantasy and dream. How insignificant, that the boy I love will never kiss me; for I have been kissed by cosmic dread, by the emptiness above me, into which I long to submerge. Is that where you roam now, sad and lonely spectre? If I breathe onto your image in this polished realm, can you drink my hot mortality and cool me from this bondage of bone and flesh?

Ah, no. For now you disintegrate and drift into the dull backward of Time, into a boundless past. Where you walk alone.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Where are the words?

You can probably tell, from my lack of posting of late, that I have yet to pen a new prose poem for the book I am writing now. I have an entire sheet of scribbles, lines and imagery and such, that will eventually be incorporated into the new piece. But I have been distracted all week by boring reality and cannot find the required concentration that allows me to write. This makes me feel such a wimp and an amateur. I have always been a creature of mood, and I have always only written when in the mood. Writing full time was such a fantasy life for me -- but now that it is my every day reality, I find that I lack the professional discipline that is so important. I've come close, this week, to being able to work -- I can feel it now, it's so close, the ability to push away the world and weave words into some new work. Perhaps to-night I shall be able to do something.

So, last night, feeling frustrated and bored, I did an odd thing. I read an early Sesqua Valley story in three "episodes" on my MrWilum YouTube channel. The tale is called "Never Steal from a Whateley," and it was publish'd in a small press zine called The Diversifier in 1976, an issue that is devoted to H. P. Lovecraft and the Mythos and includes items by E. Hoffmann Price, L. Sprague de Camp, Richard L. Tierney and Donald Sydney-Fryer. My story, one that I will never allow to be reprinted so long as I breathe the filthy air of reality, concerns two thieves who venture accidentally into Sesqua Valley and decide to rob one house, in which they find, on a floor in a room filled with eldritch tombs, a rather odd and nameless thing:

"What looked to be fur were feathers, thick, heavily matted. Two large and ugly claws, about one and one-half feet in length, lay on the floor. At the opposite end from where the feet protruded was a head. It was brownish-yellow, large, two hollow sockets staring up at the two men, a large beak just below the eyeless sockets."

How eyeless sockets are able to stare upward remains an unfathomable and eldritch mystery! When Jessica Salmonson read the story she gave herself a near-fatal asthma attack from violent laughter. Now, for the past two years, every time I attend a convention or The H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival, some irritating person brings me a copy of this magazine to be signed. I thought I would be safe at World Fantasy Con last year in San Jose -- but no! I sign'd two or three of the bloody things. I must have been in some really sick mood last night, then, to have decided, "Oh, what a lovely little lark, I'll read my story about the giant reanimated chicken rug on YouTube!" There are times when my perversity shocks even me, myself and I.

I've been dipping into the amazing Centipede Press edition of H. P. Lovecraft that Jerad publish'd as part of his Masters of the Weird Tale series. Do any of you have it? Great Yuggoth, what a book! Folio size, leather bound, with a sewn-in silk book ribbon, and many wonderful illustrations, some in gorgeous colour. And yet, Jerad, too, was slightly perverse when he compil'd ye tome: for although we find some of ye revisions such as "The Mound" and "The Curse of Yig" and that bloody awful Derlethian travesty, "The Horror in the Museum" (which I admit I read with ghoulish relish at least once a year), the book does not contain those wondrous tales of decadent horror, "The Hound" or "The Unnamable"!!! Shocking! Still, it is a wonderful edition of Lovecraft, and comes (in its box set) with a second wee volume of photographs, rare photographs of Lovecraft, followed by sinister and artistic photographs of Providence by J. K. Potter. Gawd, Centipede Press books are so lovely. I am still in a dream-like state at the idea that, this year, I shall have a Centipede Press edition of mine own, edited and introduced by S. T. Joshi. The book will be expensive, but it will contain lots of new, unpublish'd work. Allow me to list its contents:
"Totem Pole," "Beyond the Realm of Dream," "Dust to Dust," "Born in Strange Shadow," "The Darkest Star," "Heritage of Hunger," "An Imp of Aether," "Child of Dark Mania," "The Hands That Reek and Smoke," "The Host of Haunted Air," "The Woven Offspring" (with a shocking revision of its ending), "The Zanies of Sorrow," "Phantom of Beguilement," "A Vestige of Mirth" (which I think is a rather effective example of Lovecraftian horror that is not in any way Mythos), "An Eidolon of Nothing," "The Fungal Stain," "Hour of Their Appetite," "The Sign That Sets the Darkness Free" (another example of my trying to write something that is decidedly Lovecraftian but cannot be linked to the Cthulhu Mythos), "Jigsaw Boy," "Balm of Nepenthe," "The Saprophytic Fungi," "Stupor Mundi," "His Splintered Kiss," "Your Metamorphic Moan," "The Boy with the Bloodstained Mouth," "Bloom of Sacrifice," "Time of Twilight" (written as tribute to my beloved Quentin Crisp), "He Who Made Me Dream," "Garden of Shattered Faces," "Some Distant Baying Sound" (my direct sequel to Lovecraft's "The Hound," wherein I try'd to mimic his tale's narrative voice), "Inhabitants of Wraithwood" (the tale that I consider my finest, soon to see its first publication in S. T. Joshi's anthology of modern Lovecraft tales, Black Wings), "The Tangled Muse" (original to this edition), "Some Distant Memory" (original to this edition), "In Memoriam: Oscar Wilde" (original to this edition), "Uncommon Places" (original to this edition, a prose-poem/vignette sequence of 15,000 words, each segment of which is inspir'd by an entry in HPL's Commonplace Book), "One Last Theft," "O, Baleful Theophany," "Into the Depths of Dreams and Madness" (my sequel to Lovecraft's "Pickman's Model," where I have ye decadent New England artist travel to Sesqua Valley and meet his curious doom), "The House of Idiot Children" (written in collaboration with Maryanne K. Snyder and publish'd in Weird Tales), "Pale, Trembling Youth" (written with Jessica Amanda Salmonson and published in Cutting Edge), and "In Remembrance: Edgar A Poe" (original to this collection. The book will have lots of illustrations, many of them by Aubrey Beardsley (we are trying to give the book an 1890's fin-de-siecle feel and look).

I think I am in the mood to read some of my prose-poem sequence to Oscar Wilde on YouTube -- & perhaps that will inspire me with ye mood to actually write a new prose poem before the fall of midnight. Shalom.

Friday, March 5, 2010

"Postcard from Prague"

Ye new prose poem:

"Avigdor:--

"I hear wind in moonlit trees -- an emotionless sound. Lunar light gloves this hand with which I trace your name on rough tomb-rock. The wound on my finger (do you remember?) has opened once again. How dark the crimson drops appear in this pale light. Blood on stone, again. I cannot find the pit where Judah lies buried, but I have scraped a little hole into the sod, into which I whisper his name; and into that little hole I shall bury the tiny Golem that you fashioned out of clay.

"Dearest, I have found a bit of broken tombstone, one edge of which is sharp. I shall bring it home. I shall hold it to pale moonlight in the place where you rest beneath cold earth. I shall dig until I touch your face, and with this stone I shall inscribe your forehead. Dearest, I shall shiver when, again, you hold me in your arms.

"Eternally,
"Karo."

This is far more macabre than what I originally had in mind. I was expecting to write something in memory of the Jews who perished in ye holocaust. My maternal ancestors were Dutch Jews, and I have a huge Jewish identification, although I was raised a Mormon. As I began to write this, the Golem theme asserted itself and got me dwelling on ideas of death and resuscitation. Avigdor Karo, a poet and physician, is the earliest burial in the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, and so I used his name for both of my characters. At first I was going to change the second name to "Kara," to suggest a brother/sister relationship.

Life at the moment is too crazy, and I am finding it almost impossible to concentrate on working on the new book. I sometimes really miss having my own apartment, when I can live in quiet solitude and be left alone to write. I never answered the phone, would let the answering machine do that, and then if it was someone I wanted to speak to I would pick up. I moved in with my Mother two years ago, as she can no longer function on her own; and I love this house, which my father had built when I was five. I shall spend the rest of my life here. But mom doesn't understand that a writer needs quiet and solitude, and she often stands in the kitchen called down to me (I write in the basement), "It's so nice and sunny outside, why don't you go jogging? Why don't you go do some yardwork?" Stuff like that, which totally kills my poetic concentration!

So much of the writing process, for me, is finding the mood in which to sit and contemplate a new piece. A majority of the work is a mental process, dreaming, thinking, reading. I don't have the discipline required to be a professional writer who makes one's living from writing. I am a creature of emotion and mood. So I need to wait a few more hours, until Mother is resting before the telly for her evening programs, and then I can sit in this dusky basement and try to work. The next prose poem, I think, will be based on The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. I also want to begin work on the new Sesqua novelette that will be included in the new book, for which I am studying the Imagist movement. Just got a way cool book, The Verse Revolutionaries--Ezra Pound, H. D. and the Imagists, by Helen Carr, over 900 pages about that group and literary movement. I'm setting the novelette in 1917, and basing one character on the poet who signed herself "H. D.," and another character on Robert H. Barlow, Lovecraft's teenage buddy. I was hoping to have this new book completely written by October, but I can tell that won't happen if I am unable to find the quiet and peace of mind I need to totally sink into the writing.

I do love this life, and I'm grateful to be living here, rent-free, where I can at least try to write full-time. My life now is rather a miracle of good fortune, really. Okay, now I need to try and figure out how to concoct a home-made Taco Salad for our dinner, after which nameless ritual I shall sink into the depths of this basement and, fingertips pressed to brow, try to conjure forth a new prose poem.

Many thanks to all of you's who are taking time to read these blogs. I appreciate the audience and comments.