Writers, “Writers,” and Writers(?)

Several years ago, I was doing some archival research on the history of literary groups, associations, and the like in Richmond. At the time I was serving on the Board of Directors of James River Writers, the largest and most prominent literary organization in Central Virginia, and I’d gotten curious about where and how these groups preserve their histories. I didn’t expect to be personally attacked in the process, and yet—!

In the course of reading, I ran across a letter between two members of a bygone organization, talking about the value of different authors’ works. One said to the other that, in essence, people who publish academically are not real writers. An interesting claim, and one that makes more sense, given the letter was from many decades ago, back before creative writing put down… not merely roots, but taproots in the ivory tower.

To be fair, these correspondents weren’t discussing scholarship, much of which is just not created to be read for pleasure, with artistic goals in mind, or both. My publications over the last fifteen years have encompassed all of the above, though the last few years have seen a decrease in my fiction credits as I’ve turned my attention toward novels. For better or worse, that meant more careful allocation of my time, which led to less time reading and writing short fiction. It hasn’t, however, cut so much into my academic writing. Some of that’s professional stuff about my work as a librarian that is probably of no interest to most people reading this, but not entirely.

To wit, yesterday I got my (aforementioned) contributor’s copy of Fantastic Cities: American Urban Spaces in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. It includes my chapter “Olympia, Wilderness, and Consumption in Laird Barron’s Old Leech Cycle.” Viz:

contributor's copy of FANTASTIC CITIES on bookshelf

This essay had a long gestation period, as is not uncommon in the humanities. I’m grateful to the editors that it’s out in the world, and I hope it finds readers! While I don’t have the same artistic ambitions with it that I do have with my fiction, I tried to write it well, and I tried to offer some perspectives that might be interesting to other readers of weird fiction, and Laird Barron’s fiction in particular.

Other than that? With March here, it seems like Omicron might be behind us, even if the world is unquiet. I’m still thinking about next steps on the novel I wrote about a couple posts back. In the meanwhile, I’m 10,000 words into a new novel, one that involved as detailed an outline as I’ve ever created, along with 25,000 words of preparatory character sketches. Sometimes new books need new methods, or so I’ve heard. Happy Spring!

Essay in LampLight 6.1 / Upcoming Lovecraft Talk

cover of lamplight 6.1For those who didn’t catch my essay on horror in flash fiction, originally published in Thinking Horror 1, it’s now available in LampLight. Volume 6.1 is currently available in e-book and will soon be available in print. The issue includes the usual array of goodness, and it features Damien Angelica Walters.

Next week I’ll have the pleasure and honor of giving a brown bag talk at the English Faculty Forum at my university (VCU). It will be Wednesday, November 8, 2017. “Aesthetic Experiments: H. P. Lovecraft and ‘Pickman’s Model’ in 1927.” Noon-1:00, in 308 Hibbs Hall. Free and open to the community at large. I’ll be speaking with my “librarian hat” on, although as time goes by, the different hats seem to be increasingly difficult of distinction. This talk is part of a project that I’ve been poking at from multiple angles in recent years, and which is starting to resemble an academic monograph. TBD.

For those finding this site before the talk at VCU and wanting to know more about what I do, the “About” and “Publications” pages linked above should be of some help. The “Weird Fiction Publishers” page is a list of publishers I update occasionally and maintain for my own use and that of the community of weird fiction readers, writers, publishers, etc. If you want an idea of what people look for here, these are some of the most popular posts:

752 views — Anthropocene Ghosts and Other Collateral Damage in Moldova (Spectral, 2016)
519 views — Finding Women in Horror and Weird Fiction
514 views — On the Existence of the Female Tentacle
409 views — The Hugos: Shenanigans & Unpopular Opinions
246 views — Release the Leeches!
184 views — Aickman’s Heirs
147 views — Lovecraft, Joshi, The Head, and Fantasy in 2014 (and 2100)

ICFA 37 & The Horror of It All

iafa logoICFA 37 promises to be exciting, and the preliminary program has been posted. I’m looking forward to talking with friends and colleagues old and new. My activities are mostly horror-related, and include…

Thursday, March 17, 2016 8:30-10:00 a.m., Dogwood
(HL) Paranormal Publishing and Pedagogy
[Paper session. I’ll be giving “Anxiety, Nomenclature, and Epistemology after the Horror Boom.”]

Friday, March 18, 2016  10:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m., Oak
(HL/FL) Cosmic Panic: The Continuing Influence of Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927)
[Panel discussion on Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” chaired by the estimable Sean Moreland.]

Saturday, March 19, 2016 10:30-12:00 a.m., Cove
(HL/FL/VPAA) Folkloric Monsters Old and New
[Paper session I’m chairing.]

Saturday, March 19, 2016  2:00-3:30 p.m., Cove
Words & Worlds: Prose I
[Long-running ICFA group reading series, in which I’m delighted to be included.]


iafa logoThis year I’m attending and presenting at ICFA 36. My paper will be in Oak on Friday, March 20, 2015, 2:30-4 p.m. It’s entitled “Node, Edge, or Tentacle: Data and the Lovecraftian Literary Network,” and it’s part of a panel entitled “All Hail the King: Lovecraft and Nothing But,” chaired by Rhonda Brock-Servais. My fellow panelists look to be talking on interested subjects, including monster deities, and how we understand the Other in Lovecraft and Ligotti.

This is one of those events where the whenworldscollide tag is especially appropriate. I’ve been reading HPL for something like a quarter century, write fiction that often falls somewhere on the spectrum between Lovecraftian and the Weird, and will be presenting on a topic that I wouldn’t really ever have approached without exposure to the digital humanities through my work as a librarian. Here’s to life’s pleasant and useful confluences.

If you’re going to ICFA, I look forward to meeting you there!

On Liking Popular Things

Past a certain threshold of popularity, artists, musicians, writers, and other creators leave obscurity and enter the zone of public judgment. While it’s not quite celebrity, there are parallels, and whatever rules of decorum and reticence come into play with new or minor artists tend to wane. Fandoms emerge, worship and denigration blossom, stalkers slowly emerge (or not) from the woodwork, and online commentary metastasizes and sprouts hairy tendrils.

cover for the ocean at the end of the lane by neil gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

Such is the case with authors on the scale of Neil Gaiman. His new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is a wistful morsel of delight. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, to judge by some of the 1800+ Amazon reviews, but certainly to mine. The incantatory tone of the opening is as clear a call to rich veins of myth and Story as you’ll read this year. The plot and characters are somewhat familiar types, if you’ve read his work before, but so it is with things mythological or Jungian. On finishing it, I felt a sense of readerly satisfaction at hearing a tale well told.

My reaction as a writer was rather different. Now, I’ve written previously about my deep affection for Gaiman’s work, particularly Sandman, but also American Gods, Coraline, et al., back to Don’t Panic. It’s not hard to like Neil Gaiman, and his thoroughgoing presence in the worlds of F/SF/H and comics has long since passed into a richly deserved and truly broad-based popularity.

Even while reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane, though, I couldn’t help but remember the dozens of pot-shots I’ve heard or read taken at the man, the bulk from other writers. The green-eyed monster has a share in this, to be sure. Gaiman is beloved, well-remunerated, has actually influenced the culture, is a topic of continued popular, genre, and scholarly interest, and by all reports is also an exceedingly decent human being. And yet, whenever the topic of him or his fiction arises in discussion with other writers, the knives come out. Critical judgment, or personal preference is one thing, but I can hardly remember being party to a discussion of Gaiman’s work with other writers that has not incorporated at least a token amount of insecure posturing.

To digress, I recently made a minor decision about my grammatical comportment. Thenceforth, I decided, I’d happily reply to such inquiries as “How are you today?” with either “good” or “well” as the mood took me. I’ve passed some sort of personal Rubicon, perhaps due to aging, that means I’d rather be disliked for my preferences than liked for toeing the linguistic/Party line. Since then I’ve been on the receiving end of more sour looks than one would think a predilection for the popular, if improper, response could elicit.

When it comes to Neil Gaiman’s work, I’ve never denied, or even tacitly omitted, my regard, but here is the thing (news flash!): on some level, witting or unwitting, the Mandarins of writing do not much like popularity. From collapsed backlists to Barnes & Noble death-spirals to almost intentionally unprofitable academic fiction, the landscape for writing fiction ain’t what it used to be. Self-publishing, e-books, the Web, etc. have all brought new freedoms, but also new problems, and making a buck as a writer of fiction is tough stuff these days. Seeing the success of anyone else, let alone a cheerful-seeming fellow like Gaiman, well…

This isn’t a review, obviously, but still: go read The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Read it because it’s a delight and will make you grin. You’ll hear about others reading it, and you’ll hear the eye-rolling from the jaded corners of coffee shops, but that’s all right. If its author’s literary reception is hindered in any quarters by popular success, I doubt he will much mind, nor should he. It’s a good book that deserves to be read, and I’m glad I had the pleasure.