Pleasurable Reading, Shaded Giants

The best thing I did as a reader in 2018 was intentionally refocus on reading what I like. For too many years, I’d been reading a blend of things that I thought I should be reading as a writer, trying to expand my horizons and do right on multiple counts. In the process I purchased books to support various authors, causes, etc… and developed a 100+ title TBR pile. Some I was more eager to read, some less, and I’d find myself “sneaking” books from the public library. Also, thinking longingly of re-reading old faves (I’m an inveterate book-revisitor).

Reader, something really had to give. This was more than vaguely clear in 2017, but by the end of 2018, it was no longer vague. Last year I finished reading 69 books and 37 graphic novels/trade collections, and I set aside unfinished maybe 10 books. Some months I was tearing through books, others limping. The slower months were overwhelmingly those when I was reading “shoulds.” Part of the slowness was lack of interest, part frustration at seeing weak writers praised or succeed, part simply a lack of desire to read.

That last part should have been a big clue. Many writers read quite a lot, outrageous quantities compared to the average American, and for a very long time I was one of them.  For a whole bunch of reasons, however, I reached a point in this decade where I was barely reading 2 books per month. Last year, giving myself license both to chuck books I wasn’t enjoying and to seek out authors and books likely to square with my interests, I read more like 6 books per month, 9  if you include comics.

Social media, the blessing/curse (blursing?) of our time, has been a blend of good and terrible in all of this. On the one hand, I’ve heard of books and authors that I wouldn’t otherwise have, some wonderful! One example of this is Matthew Bartlett, author of a host of genuinely strange neo-Decadent fictions. He can write, is a mensch, and is justifiably something of  a darling in contemporary weird fiction… but much of his work is self-published, or from small presses. And so, like many authors these days, he’s almost entirely absent from libraries. Without social media, and Facebook in particular, I would likely never have heard of him (check out Gateways to Abomination).

On the other hand, the literary market is beyond saturated, leading to endless PR and social media touting of “brilliant,” “important,” “essential,” “vital,” “outstanding,” etc. authors, and while I realize people want to help their friends and sell their own work, too often this is false advertising. (Ditto blurbs, in which I no longer place any stock whatsoever, as guides to whether I’ll like a book.) Whether it’s the literary fiction community, the weird fiction community, the YA community, or whatever, people ride high horses all the livelong day about this shit, and as someone wisely pointed out to me in 2018, literary communities are endlessly incestuous and precious. Paying too much attention to them can be fatal to taste and joy.

I thought about this much more this past year as I read and re-read various popular authors. These are folks with well-developed chops for carrying a narrative along: Stephen King, Karin Slaughter, John Sandford, J. K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, etc., and of course I’m continually dipping back into Lovecraft, James, Machen, etc. Newer authors like Paul Tremblay or John Langan, or newcomers like Christine Mangan, have plenty of firepower in this regard, too. These are folks who have honed their craft and developed stories that work in the contemporary market.

marcus aurelius statueThere are so many different kinds of “good book,” or course, and the lists of authors you find in quality writing books like Delany’s About Writing include a host of different modes and styles. That’s a good thing! That said, as I focused in on heavier hitters, in terms of sales, reviews, etc., I likewise have been more apt to notice the green-eyed monster lurking under the faces of friends and writers I follow online, some bigger and some smaller.

Gaiman, King, Rowling, etc. are common targets for these complaints, and I get the frustration about the stiff competition to publish, but many people publicly and privately say boneheaded shit about authors who are titans in the field, as if the ability to win over readers is a bad thing. Part of that’s art-community nonsense, and building of various kinds of social capital, but to state the obvious, popular authors are successful in publishing. Luck, connections, family money, and so on do play into many literary careers, no question… and a lot’s been justifiably written about racism and sexism in publishing… but beloved authors are beloved. That you, Struggling Author, are not beloved does not mean that your favorite target is a literary shyster.

Reader, this blog post has grown unwieldy, and I’ve excised the 20% of it that would bring the wolves howling, in so far as anyone reads this blog. That, as a fellow writer I know who’s rarely online says, is part of the problem of talking about reading when you’re a writer. Anything other than glowing praise is at best going to result in silence. I offer no slings or arrows for anyone in particular here, but take it as you will that I no longer see “hidden,” “overlooked,” “obscure,” or “little-known” as signifiers of anything other than historical or market success.

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Halloween Season and WFC 2018

Greetings, all you ghouls! Here’s hoping your Halloween Season has been as creepy and disturbing as mine… I’ve been reading Orrin Grey‘s Guignol and Other Sardonic Tales lately, along with watching things like Night Tide (1961), Hocus Pocus (1993), and other dark delights. So, actually, a little more witchy-ghosty than stabby-despairy (those are the official horror taxonomies, don’t you know?).

Late summer/early autumn has seen the release of a number of publications including my work. For all that I’ve only completed a few new pieces this year, it’s been a bumper crop the last month or so…

  • book coversAs I wrote previously, volume one of The Silent Garden, a new annual publication from Undertow, contains an essay by yours truly (“Translating the Ritual”) about the move of Adam Nevill‘s The Ritual from page to screen.
  • This year’s edition of Nightscript (volume four) contains my “There Has Never Been Anyone Here,” a semi-epistolary story that goes down as probably the most complicated story I’ve ever written, from research to formatting. My thanks to Nightscript editor C.M. Muller for doing such a lovely job in retaining my intentions for the final version.
  • My first peer-reviewed piece of literary scholarship has now been published in Sean Moreland’s New Directions in Supernatural Horror Literature: The Critical Influence of H. P. Lovecraft. “Reception Claims in Supernatural Horror in Literature and the Course of Weird Fiction” took some time to get right, and I’m proud of it. (Please note that this volume is priced for the academic market, and you might want to consider suggesting your local/institutional library purchase a copy.)

In the next month or so, I’ll have work in Dead Reckonings and a reprint in Pseudopod. A few other things floating around out there might yet appear before 2019.

Last but definitely not least, I’ll be at World Fantasy in Baltimore this year! I’m attending with both my writer and my librarian hats on, so I’ll be swanning around and doubtless asking questions about writers’ research practices. I’m delighted to say that I’m scheduled to read on Thursday, November 1, at 5:30 p.m. in room Federal Hill. Please come to witness the spectacle of…

Terror in Glover-o-Vision!

Well, perhaps not quite all that, but I do loathe a dull reading! Hopefully attendees will be at least entertained, and perhaps even encounter a bit of pleasing terror on the journey…

ICFA 39, I Liked the Cut of Your Jib

This year’s ICFA was a delight to attend, and on many counts! As always, I met many interesting scholars, writers, editors, and good folks of various fields, as well as connecting with old friends and laying devious plans. My academic paper was well received, the panel involved  a productive and wide-ranging take on Weird Tales and weird fiction, and my reading seemed to go over well.

I’m not going to say much more about the conference here, as I’m writing up the event for another publication (more about that down the road). James McGlothin captured his experience nicely, if you want to take a look, over at Black Gate. Here are a few pictures…

weird tales panel photo

Early a.m. panel on WEIRD TALES, featuring (L to R) Sean Moreland, moi, Jeffrey Shanks, Tracy (May) Stone, and GoH Nike Sulway. Photo by Dierk Gunther

 

words and worlds prose reading at icfa 39

Words & Worlds Prose Reading, with Doug Ford reading his “Pig Feast.” Readers included Derek Newman-Stille (out of frame), Regina Hansen, Gina Wisker, Doug Ford, and moi. Photo by Jenna Jarvis

And finally, I got an awfully nice response from no less than Michael Arnzen on the story I read. I don’t think the conference could have had a better end:

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ICFA 39 & The Very Horrible, Totally Terrible Spreadsheets

iafa logoICFA 39 is almost here! I meant to post about this weeks ago, but the days ran away from me. Really looking forward to seeing friends and colleagues old and new. I’m doing a few things this go-round…

Thursday, March 15, 2018 8:30-10:00 a.m., Oak
(HL) Panel: Weird Tales and the Evolution of Weird Fiction
Moderator : Sean Moreland
[I’ll be a panelist at 8:30 in the morning! The horror, the horror!]

Thursday, March 15, 2018 10:30-12:00 p.m., Maple
(HL/FL/SF) The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovecraft
Chair: Andrew P. Williams
[I’ll be giving a paper during this session — “Lies, Damned Lies, and Eldritch Statistics: Toward a Quantitative Analysis of Lovecraft’s Literary Reputation.” Warning: there will be charts.]

Saturday, March 4:00-5:30 p.m., Vista B
Words & Worlds Prose
Host: P. Andrew Miller
[Long-running ICFA group reading series, in which I’m delighted to be included.]

 

My First Lovecraft

BeyondTheGrave17CoverRecently I gave a talk about my engagement with H.P. Lovecraft, as reader, writer, and librarian/scholar. In it, I stated that I’d first read Lovecraft around 1988. While true, this elides an encounter I’d had with the Old Gent four years previously, when I stumbled on a remixed/pop version of HPL in Charlton ComicsBeyond the Grave, issue 17.

In the first story of the issue, “No Way Out,” the reader is treated to the tale of Jabez Monchek. The art and writing are of a piece with Bronze Age horror comics, but in rereading the story earlier this year, I was more than a little surprised to see the layers of metafiction laid on top. The character is a Lovecraft stand-in who enjoys reading Lovecraft and is trapped in an ancient house, where he lives his life as writer, painter, and sculptor.

MonchekReader, in the language of Meme, “it me.” Just as I experienced a shock of deep familiarity a couple of years ago when I re-encountered Mercer Mayer’s One Monster After Another, so this year I was stunned to read a comic book story that apparently had something like a fundamental effect on me. I remember picking it from the rack in a tiny beachside grocery store and a vague sort of pleasure when reading it, but nothing like the impact it apparently had on me.

Included in this post are scans of the issue cover and a few panels. I’m unsure who own Beyond the Grave at this point, but apparently the bulk of Charlton IP went to DC Comics and AP Comics. I’d love to see a collected version appear at some point, whoever the owner is. My thanks to Matthew Carpenter, who posted elsewhere about Lovecraft and comics, and inspired me to write this post.

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)

Nightscripts, Symposia, and More

cover of nightscript vol. 2It’s October, which means that Nightscript Volume 2 has arrived [Amazon]. This volume of the annual anthology that debuted last year contains stories from Michael Griffin, Kristi DeMeester, Christopher Slatsky, Eric J. Guignard, Malcolm Devlin, Gwendolyn Kiste, Ralph Robert Moore, Christopher Ropes, Steve Rasnic Tem, Jason A. Wyckoff, Gordon White, Nina Shepardson, Kurt Fawver, Rowley Amato, Charles Wilkinson, H.V. Chao, Daniel Mills, Rebecca J. Allred, Matthew M. Bartlett, José Cruz, and noted rapscallion J.T. Glover. I’m looking forward to reading this volume, as I very much enjoyed the inaugural edition of Nightscript. It’s on the strange and dark side, more subtle than some books, with a flavor that’s somewhere between M.R. James and Shirley Jackson and Robert Aickman.

My story for the volume is entitled “En Plein Air.” As you might guess, painting is involved, and it’s set here in Richmond. I had the pleasure of reading it this past spring at an ICFA group reading, to a warm reception. Authors are prone to say their most recent story is their best, and so I’m not going to say that, but I will say that I’m proud of it, and I think it’s good. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

pulpsymposium-teaserdigitaldisplay-1

My other big thing this month in the realm of the dark, weird, etc. is a paper I’ll be delivering with my critical, bibliographic hat on this Friday at James Madison University’s Pulp Studies Symposium. My paper, “The Selected Authorship of H.P. Lovecraft,” is intended to treat Lovecraft’s letters and authorial identity. As I’ve been revising it, however, it’s evolving into something a little more holistic that’s (I hope!) on point for the symposium’s focus.

The paper I’m giving is one piece of a larger argument I’m groping toward about Lovecraft’s literary reputation, reception, and afterlife. Another part of it will hopefully be appearing in 2017 or so in an edited critical volume, and another part of it will (hopefully; less certain) be given at a conference next year. While I didn’t plan my thinking as such, I am starting to see possibilities for ways these ideas could be presented as a monograph. Whether they will or not is another question, but I do think Lovecraft is an odd literary figure, stranger than he is usually considered, and I believe that I have some useful things to say about that, particularly given my viewpoint as a writer and a scholar.

Last but not least, I’ll point you toward Nick Mamatas‘ “The People of Horror and Me,” in Nightmare Magazine‘s “The H Word” series. Published in September, Nick’s essay covers various aspects of the formation of the horror field, and he has a few things to say about the paper I delivered at ICFA earlier this year (subsequently republished at Postscripts to Darkness). Much scholarship goes unread and unheard, doing little beyond existing. I’m glad that this paper has done neither, and proved a useful stimulus.