The Horror of the Past, the Horror of the Present

In an essay recently published at LitHub, Rebecca Solnit  shared some thoughts on what it takes to be a writer, and I found myself nodding along with a lot of it. I almost suffered a spinal injury while nodding at this:

Read good writing, and don’t live in the present. Live in the deep past, with the language of the Koran or the Mabinogion or Mother Goose or Dickens or Dickinson or Baldwin or whatever speaks to you deeply. Literature is not high school and it’s not actually necessary to know what everyone around you is wearing, in terms of style, and being influenced by people who are being published in this very moment is going to make you look just like them, which is probably not a good long-term goal for being yourself or making a meaningful contribution. At any point in history there is a great tide of writers of similar tone, they wash in, they wash out, the strange starfish stay behind, and the conches.

“Co-signed,” I say. My reading has included plenty of horror and weird fiction and fantasy and such, but also: a ton of history, folklore, literary criticism, foreign (German, Greek, Latin, more) literature in the original and in translation, poetry, and a large, non-representative thwack of 20th century U.S. fiction. And for as long as I have even flirted with the idea of writing seriously, I’ve encountered poets and writers the same age as me who shrugged at the idea of reading books older than they were, or outside their area of specialization. Unfortunately for a lot of them, it showed in their writing. Almost to a one, nobody wanted to hear “you should read some Henry James,” or “have you tried Seneca,” or “dude, Christina Rosetti.”

valancourt book of horror stories coverAll of which brings me to the first volume of The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories, [B&N | Amazon | publisher] edited by the publishers of that esteemed house, James D. Jenkins and Ryan Cagle. If you have any interest in horror fiction, I urge you to give this book a try. Two-thirds of the names in the Table of Contents were either unfamiliar to me, or very nearly so, and the stories in this volume come from across the last two centuries of the tradition of Anglo-American horror. Some are early 18th century, some less than ten years old. You’re not going to find Blackwood, Brite, Stoker, King, Langan, Rice, or the like in this book, which is kind of the point. Tread these waters, and you’ll encounter new voices and new stories, told in forms and rhythms that may just change you.

One of the supposed joys of reading anthologies is that you encounter a range of authors, a kind of heady stew that takes you in new directions. In practice, many’s the anthology I go to read where 50-90% of the authors are familiar to me, and sometimes that’s exactly what I want. This anthology, however, not only introduced me to new authors, but to authors whose work I intend to seek out (some of which can be found in Valancourt’s catalogue): Michael McDowell, Stephen Gregory, John Trevena, M.G. Lewis, and Charles Birkin.

This book contains many gems, from Christopher Priest’s transgressive “The Head and the Hand,” to Mary Cholmondeley’s “Let Loose,” a proto-vampire tale that plays with various conventions of the vampire tale seven years before the publication of Dracula. Michael McDowell’s “Miss Mack” is a tale of dread and female friendship, with a strong Southern flavor in keeping with the author’s background.

If I had to point to one story I liked best, I’d say Stephen Gregory’s “The Progress of John Arthur Crabbe.” The story is excellent and elliptical, and I’ve already read it several times. This is a case where I had not only not read the author, but hadn’t even heard of him, as best I can recall. He’s a Welsh author of horror fiction, with a number of books out there and is still publishing. I’m grateful to Valancourt Books for this collection in general, but in particular for opening  such promising new rooms to me in the mansion of horror fiction.

Updates, Honorable Mentions, and the Warping of Young Minds

richmond young writers logoThis summer marked the first time I taught (twice, even!) creative writing for young writers. I was delighted to serve as guest author for the good folks at Richmond Young Writers, and had the pleasure of working with Julie Geen, whom I’ve known for a couple years now, at VCU and from around town, James River Writers, etc. The kids were great, it all seemed to work out well, and I’d love to do it again one day.

Photo of H.P. LovecraftThis autumn I’m going to be presenting some of my Lovecraft scholarship in an academic venue. More details on that down the road, but I’m darn excited. My other scholarship on literary horror, HPL, and weird fiction continues apace.

In a not unrelated vein, I’m excited for the publication of “His Knife, Her Shadow,” in the second issue of Thinking Horror this autumn. My piece is a confessional memoir of sorts, all about how I came to horror as a child in the early 1980s. Writing it proved unexpectedly harrowing, and I hope it’s of interest to the readers of Thinking Horror.

Finally, in further exciting news, I was delighted and honored that Ellen Datlow noted two of my short stories for her long list of Honorable Mentions for Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 8:

“Hunger Full and Lean,” The Lovecraft eZine 34 [free online]
“Mercy’s Armistice,” Big Bad II [$2.99 on Kindle]

The Horror That May or May Not Be Horror

Cover of Paul Tremblay's a head full of ghostsThis spring I gave a paper at ICFA37 about the life of horror fiction after the boom of 1970-1995, wherein I talked about different waves of authors, nomenclatures of horror, and about the appearance of books like Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts. That paper has been revised and slightly expanded for publication as “The Life and Afterlife of Horror Fiction,” and you can read it over at Postscripts to Darkness.

Looking for a more cinematic flavor of horror, but text-y? Try Orrin Grey’s new book, Monsters from the Vault, which collects his monster movie columns from Innsmouth Free Press. I haven’t read it yet, but I did pre-order it, and Orrin on movies is always a pleasure.

Looking for a chapbook celebrating the bicentennial of Frankenstein’s conception? Coming June 18, Selena Chambers has you covered via Tallhat Press.

Looking for carnal fiction, penned by authors with the blackest of hearts? Molly Tanzer’s new mag, Congress, is alive and kicking.

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.]

Recent Publications

cover for THINKING HORRORHalloween 2015 marked the launch of Thinking Horror, a new non-fiction journal co-edited by s.j. bagley and Simon Strantzas, which focuses on horror and philosophy. The first issue is themed “Horror in the Twenty-First Century,” and I’m delighted to have an essay in it. My piece is entitled “Against Nature,” and is about the sorrows of naturalism and the merits of flash fiction for horror, touching on fiction by Thomas Ligotti and Laura Ellen Joyce, as well as art by Amy Bennett and Gregory Crewdson.

Frankly I’ve been excited ever since Thinking Horror was announced. It’s right up my alley as a reader, and it features a ton of articles and interviews that look outstanding.  Even better news for all interested in such things, this journal is the initial offering of TKHR, which will be publishing a variety of works on contemporary horror, from further themed projects to other delights that are yet to be revealed. You can purchase a print copy of Volume One from Amazon, and an electronic version is just around the corner.

cover for weirdbook 31September saw the release of Weirdbook 31, the first issue in the revival of Weirdbook, a classic publication. I aspired to publication in its pages during it’s previous run, and I’m delighted to appear in this magazine now. It’s chock-full of good horror, fantasy, baroque fantasy, weird horror, etc., including (if I may be so immodest) a fable of my own devising, entitled “Wolf of Hunger, Wolf of Shame.” While this is “issue 31” of a magazine, note that it’s 160 pages, almost all of which are fiction, so it can hang with plenty of anthologies out there! You can pick up a copy at Amazon, or directly from Wildside Press.

Of late I’ve been busy enough that under-the-radar has been more necessity than convenience, but I have been reading various things. I’d like to point your attention to Orrin Grey’s new short story collection, Painted Monsters. It’s a fine book, and I hope to post a writeup down the road. I’d also like to highlight Molly Tanzer’s forthcoming novel, The Pleasure Merchant, which I had the pleasure of hearing an excerpt from earlier this year at World Horror. It’s gonna be fab, and I can’t wait to read it.