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.

To Pierce the Chancre of Darkness out of Time and Space

cover of I Am ProvidenceNick Mamatas is to blame for many things: on that I think we can all agree. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, he’s also to be praised. If there were not a Nick, he would have to be invented. That’s part of the theme of his latest book, I Am Providence [Powell’s|Amazon|B&N], wherein characters careen madly around Providence at the Summer Tentacular convention in the wake of Panos Panossian’s murder. They’re all busy creating themselves, their arch-enemies, and their hothouse-nuthouse social milieu. Toward the end of the book we’re treated to an extended eulogy for and fight over Panossian, and here we come to the meat of the matter. Following Panossian’s circumlocutory lead, however, let’s pause a moment

I Am Providence is a literary murder-mystery, stamped with “Horror” on the spine, that you’ll maybe find on the Fantasy & Science Fiction shelf, maybe in the General Fiction. It’s always one thing at the same time as something else—whodunit and fan culture send-up, meditation on mortality and gonzo thrill-ride—all welded together to form a living, breathing work of fiction. The strengths that will keep this book alive for years to come are its sharply, mercilessly honest observations of human behavior, combined with the cold ratiocination of a mind fading into darkness. It’s fundamentally Lovecraftian and Ligottian, and it is disquieting.  Praise or blame for how well it hews to the conventions of mystery, or horror, or whatever are almost beside the point: it is a Nick Mamatas novel.

This book is also, as you probably already know, a roman a clef: a satire of the community of fans, readers, writers, scholars, and hangers-on who school around things Lovecraftian, Cthulhoid, etc. Recognizable caricatures of well-known Lovecraftians fill the book, as well as composite characters and versions of generic types. It’s the funniest thing I can remember having read in years: embarrass-yourself-while-reading-it-in-public funny. Gales of laughter. My wife repeatedly came to check on me from the other room to make sure I was OK when reading at home. If laughter’s the best medicine, I just added a couple years to my life.

While I hate (I mean really fucking hate, will-cross-you-off-my-decent-human-list hate) being told that’s there’s anything I simply have to read… you have to read this book. And you have to read it now. If you are even vaguely in, around, near, tangent to, or participating in the eternally brewing celebration/maelstrom/shitstorm that is the Lovecraftian community, this book will make you laugh like hell, but mark my words: for all that it’s a good book, the roman a clef aspects of it have a shelf date. Yes, they will still be funny in five years, but people will fade from the scene, eventually Facebook will vanish, the archives of Usenet will disappear, and so on. While bits and pieces of that which is being mocked here will remain, you won’t be able to click twice and find a two-month-old fight on the web between characters in the book.

Which brings me to the point that this book is hilarious not only because it’s funny, but because the fanfic is already out there in the form of crazed screeds and ridiculous Twitter spats. The I Am Providence reading experience, if you are not yet acquainted with the principles and their conflicts, can continue through days and weeks of voyeuristic Googling. Get it while the getting is not merely good, but actually uproarious.

Some reviewers have taken this book to task for being too hard on geeks, and that’s simply not true. This book is kind of like reading the mean girls’ secret yearbook notes, true, but it’s only so mean, and it’s certainly no worse than anything you can find said by most of the principles in this book.  One reviewer described it as “loving,” and I think that’s actually not far off the mark, given how much nastier this book could be. The Fangoria review is much better, and worth a look. Now… I say all this not having seen myself in the book. I imagine that some people out there are decidedly not amused, and are stopped from bringing the lawsuits they have already contemplated primarily by the embarrassment that would be necessitated by having to prove in court that they have been unfairly slandered. And are not, in fact,  as loco, snooty, self-important, racist, sexist, megalomaniacal, deluded, or fundamentally creepy as they are portrayed in the book.

The one negative review I’ve read that makes sense to me is the one review I’ve seen that names some names. I disagree about the overall quality of the book, but there is some truth to the charge that, well, it’s not piercing enough. Many of the recognizables in this book are utterly, entirely ripe for skewering and petard-hoisting, and really they don’t come off all that badly. The same could perhaps also be said for the protagonst, Colleen Danzig, and the saner characters, all of whom get off easy… though I have seen none of them engaged in the displays of mouth-frothing, poo-smearing social maladaptation that lend this book its side-splitting humor.

Thing is? I don’t know when this novel was submitted for publication, but Yog-Sothoth knows the last two years have been full of tempests, including people in every sociopolitical corner of Lovecraftville behaving in crazed and (dare I say it) at times deplorable ways. There have been Lovecraftian dust-ups before and there will be Lovecraftian dust-ups again, but I cannot remember events as public as the recent year or so’s brouhahas that have made it to the mainstream media. And, of course, if you read this book and find yourself wondering why the man who wrote Insults Every Man Should Know did not write an even meaner book, remember that he of necessity bears some love for things Lovecraftian. However well we think of ourselves, however dramatically we may roll our eyes, we can all catch a glimpse of Asparagus Head if we look in the mirror on the right day.

Now go buy I Am Providence.

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]

This Evil Jewel: Talking with Gregory Kimbrell

The end of last month saw the publication of The Primitive Observatory, the first collection of poems from Gregory Kimbrell. A winner of the First Book Award in the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, this book will catch and hold your attention as it carries you through foreign lands, drawing on rich and divergent streams of influence to create strange resonances and unexpected beauties. Gregory, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, got his MFA in 2011 from the Creative Writing Program at Virginia Commonwealth University. He was kind enough to take time recently to answer a few questions…

Gregory Kimbrell author photo, taken during the Second Street Festival in Richmond, Sunday October 5, 2014.

Gregory Kimbrell, photo by Joe Mahoney

The people in your poems have names like Albrecht and Hilde. They inhabit lodges, verandahs, and salons. Their time is spent in occupations that seem at times foreign to the last century of American life. What sources do you draw from to create these worlds?

First and foremost, novels. I tend to read slowly, so when I read those rambling, glacially paced, dense masterworks of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past or Heimito von Doderer’s The Demons, I live alongside their worlds for a long time. These worlds intensely color my interior imaginative life, and their twisting sentences become a kind of trap I can’t escape—particularly when I’m reading late at night during a bout of insomnia. Currently, I’m working my way through Private Life by Josep Maria de Sagarra, and behold this evil jewel of a sentence: “To the Lloberola scion those cheeks—over which the father confessor scraped a straight razor every morning, as if on tiptoe, as if it were a metallic virgin stepping timidly over the stumps of a holy field—looked like the stuffed viscera from a museum of anatomy that a perverse biologist had powdered over and wound up.”

What about movies? Few people I know have the same depth and breadth of knowledge that you do in this area. Are they important for your work?

Movies are another important source for my work. I spend more time with movies than I do with just about any other type of creative endeavor; I watch at least a part of a movie every day. And particularly B horror and sci-fi. I know that for many people the B stands for Bad and that B movies are, at best, a great joke. It’s true that when I watch B movies I laugh a lot—years later, I’m still laughing about that dance routine in The Island Monster—but even when B movies are unbelievably awful, they have an unpredictability and a sense of the sheer joy of creation that are too seldom found elsewhere. Maybe because B movies have relatively small budgets and so also have relatively little riding on their success, things that would never pass muster in major movies marketed to general audiences parade unashamedly across the B-movie screen, and even when I know with almost perfect certainty that the scruffy down-and-out hero will be betrayed by his slick business-executive ex-wife, I can’t help but be astonished when he, along the way to that betrayal, discovers a UFO inside a mountain and is chased by a killer cyborg—this, by the way, is the plot of Top Line.

Anyway—there are certainly many B horror movies in the Gothic tradition, such as the majestic Nightmare Castle—although period B movies tend to be fatally boring, and nothing is more boring than a B movie set in the Middle Ages; I’m currently working my way through a Spanish turkey called Star Knight, about a princess who falls in love with a humanoid alien whose spaceship is parked beneath the surface of a nearby pond—but I think that my poems have absorbed some of the absurdity of many of the hundreds of B movies I’ve watched, regardless of their milieu. When Kathleen Graber once described my poems as having a campy quality, I was thrilled.

cover of the primitive observatoryCan you talk about how the process of bringing a poem’s setting to life works for you? Do you have any other tools that you use?

When I start drafting a new piece, and also when I’m stuck in the middle of a draft, I’ll try, in my imagination, to visualize all the details of the space that I want the poem to inhabit: the light fixtures, the flooring, the pillow cases—countless details that may not make it into the finished work. Listening to music can help, especially electronic music with its alien sounds. Haruomi Hosono released a series of minimalist sound-art-ish albums in the mid ’80s; those are a touchstone for me. Early video-game music is also perfect for visualizing space—especially given that the music in early video games was composed and engineered to help make very limited two-dimensional visual worlds more immersive.

The strangeness and narrative strength of your poems have drawn early readers to liken your work to creators in other forms or media, from Edward Gorey to Marcel Proust, from H.P. Lovecraft to David Lynch. I feel that, but I also know how important many traditions of poetry have been to you. Can you talk a bit about the poets, dead or alive, who inform your own poetic sensibilities?

I feel an affinity, certainly, for poets who were writing around the turn of the nineteenth century to the twentieth, and I think of The Primitive Observatory as, in a sense, participating in the tradition of Romantic/Gothic/supernatural/weird poetic narrative found in the work of authors such as Alfred Tennyson and Alfred Noyes. And of course, there’s Edgar Allan Poe—although I feel a greater affection for Poe the writer of short stories than Poe the poet.

Linguistically, though, I draw more from later in the twentieth century. I especially like poems from the twilight of popular formalism, things that grapple with the rise of free verse and plainness. Both early James Wright and early William Everson get nods in my book. (“The Burial Plot” is an homage to “At the Executed Murderer’s Grave” from Wright’s second book, St. Judas, and “The Fog” is an homage to “The Screed of the Frost” from Everson’s first book, The Crooked Lines of God.)

When I was in graduate school, David Wojahn introduced me to the work of French poet Jean Follain. The poems in his Transparence of the World often have an eerie, enigmatic, and even Goreyesque quality of seemingly disparate events occurring in concert according to the obscure doom that is the past. My poems “The Marshes” and “The Sluice Gate” were written originally in partial imitation of his unique aesthetic.

Which poets do you find yourself returning to regularly?

James Merrill was the first poet whose work I ever read for pleasure. Although I don’t mirror in my book his interest in meter and rhyme, reading his poems has taught me a great deal about the integrity of the line—even if my principal allegiance is still to the sentence. His bizarre and regal The Changing Light at Sandover continues to be one of my favorite books. I reread it periodically to remind myself of why I started writing in the first place.

My favorite poet is Kenji Miyazawa. “The Passing Brigade” in The Primitive Observatory is an homage to one of his most famous pieces, “Pine Needles.” Kenji was among the first wave of Japanese poets to explore free verse, which he used to make what he called “mental sketches,” attempts at capturing in words the bottomless mystery of lived experience. His poems, with a vocabulary enriched by his background in agricultural science and Buddhism, tend to have a wild, hallucinatory quality. The Primitive Observatory has little in common with that, but when I seem to be stuck in my writing, I often consult Kenji as though he might show me the way.

He also wrote curious and very moving prose fables, many with anthropomorphic animal characters. His novella “Night on the Galactic Railroad”—which, I have to say, was also made into one of the world’s best animated movies by director Gisaburо̄ Sugii and featuring electronic Satie-esque music by none other than Haruomi Hosono—is a major thematic influence on a second book manuscript that I’ve recently completed.

It’s exciting to hear that you have another manuscript finished! How did your process for creating it differ from that of The Primitive Observatory? Did you find yourself writing different kinds of poems, or drawing from different influences?

While I wrote the poems and sequences of The Primitive Observatory as discrete pieces—each its own little experiment in narrative—this new manuscript, which consists exclusively of two thematically related sequences of longer narrative poems, was conceived of as a unified project from the outset. I outlined it as though I were writing a novel. The finished thing sits somewhere between one of those sprawling European novels I mentioned previously and a work of fantasy horror. One of the characters from the manuscript actually appeared in my dreams soon after I’d started drafting it, and I took that as a sign that it needed to exist.

Gregory Kimbrell’s The Primitive Observatory is available from major online bookstores [Amazon | B&N], and is available for order from your local independent bookseller.

The Primitive Observatory Has Arrived

This week featured many excitements, but none better than the release of The Primitive Observatory Amazon | B&N | Goodreads], the first collection of poems from Gregory Kimbrell. This astonishing book of poetry, which won the First Book Award in the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, has already drawn analogies to: Chekhov, Escher, Gorey, Kafka, Lovecraft, Lynch, and Proust.  Reader, it was my delight to see this collection in draft, and all of those analogies are appropriate. If those names resonate with you, I urge you to pick up my friend’s new book! You won’t be disappointed.

Want to learn more in person?

  • March 23, 2016 – 7:00 pm – Richmond, VA
    VCU Visiting Writers Series: Gregory Kimbrell & Allison Titus
    Scott House 
  • Thursday, March 31, 2016 – 12:00 pm – Los Angeles, CA
    AWP Conference
    Robert Muroff Bookfair Stage, LA Convention Center, Exhibit Hall Level One 

cover for Gregory Kimbrell's The Primitive Observatory

She Walks in Shadows

cover of She Walks in ShadowsComing soon: the first all-woman Lovecraftian anthology, She Walks in Shadows , edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles. What’s the deal with all-women Cthulhuviana? A year and a half ago, there was a fracas about whether women ever, you know, have anything to do with Lovecraft. Now that the anthology is available for pre-sale, Silvia has posted a FAQ on her website in response to recent inquiries. Check it out, and how can you not buy it with such awesome cover art? Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Table of Contents is so squamously, rugosely batrachian…

“Bitter Perfume” Laura Blackwell
“Violet is the Color of Your Energy” Nadia Bulkin
“Body to Body to Body” Selena Chambers
“Magna Mater” Arinn Dembo
“De Deabus Minoribus Exterioris Theomagicae” Jilly Dreadful
“Hairwork” Gemma Files
“The Head of T’la-yub” Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas (translated by Silvia Moreno-Garcia)
“Bring the Moon to Me” Amelia Gorman
“Chosen” Lyndsey Holder
“Eight Seconds” Pandora Hope
“Cthulhu of the Dead Sea” Inkeri Kontro
“Turn out the Lights” Penelope Love
“The Adventurer’s Wife” Premee Mohamed
“Notes Found in a Decommissioned Asylum, December 1961″ Sharon Mock
“The Eye of Juno” Eugenie Mora
“Ammutseba Rising” Ann K. Schwader
“Cypress God” Rodopi Sisamis
“Lavinia’s Wood” Angela Slatter
“The Opera Singer” Priya Sridhar
“Provenance” Benjanun Sriduangkaew
“The Thing in The Cheerleading Squad” Molly Tanzer
“Lockbox” E. Catherine Tobler
“When She Quickens” Mary Turzillo
“Shub-Niggurath’s Witnesses” Valerie Valdes
“Queen of a New America” Wendy N. Wagner

Pre-order She Walks in Shadows.

logo for #teamsquid

Further Insight into Basic Mysteries

cover of pulp fiction essay collectionThis weekend I read an essay by Andrew J. Wilson in Pulp Fiction of the ’20s and ’30s, a volume in the Critical Insights series: “The Last Musketeer: Clark Ashton Smith and the Weird Marriage of Poetry and Pulp.” I read it partly as potential grist for something I’m working on, but also simply because I was curious to read more criticism of Smith, an author of weird fiction and poetry who continues to be read, but who has received little critical attention when compared with the likes of Chandler or Lovecraft. Wilson inserts a quotation from Smith’s “notebook of ideas” that resonates with the thinking of any number of  people in the pulp era, weird fiction writers or otherwise:

The weird tale is an adumbration or foreshadowing of man’s relationship—past, present, and future—to the unknown and infinite, and also an implication of his mental and sensory evolution. Further insight into basic mysteries is only possible through future development of higher faculties than the known senses. Interest in the weird, unknown, and supernormal is a signpost of such development and not merely a psychic residuum from the age of superstition.