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.

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.

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Reading for the Holidays

To say that I have too many books on my to-read pile is among the feeblest attempts at humor ever made, but I have nonetheless added a couple more. In no particular order…

  • The first anthology edited by noted poisoner and blackguard Jesse Bullington, Letters to Lovecraft, from Stone Skin Press
  • A trio of novellas from Innsmouth Free Press entitled Jazz Age Cthulhu, which contains work by Mr. Bones himself, Orrin Grey
  • A short story collection entitled Love & Other Poisons, from the proprietor of Innsmouth Free Press, Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • A collection of inimitably Lovecraftian tales that tend experimental, published by Innsmouth Free Press, from Nick Mamatas: Nickronomicon
  • Of Parallel and Parcel, S. J. Chambers’ chapbook from Duhams Manor Press, shipping in December
"The Yule-rite, older than man and fated to survive him."

“The Yule-rite, older than man and fated to survive him.”

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to one and all.

Writing Year 2014: Into the Blender

Around this time last year, I wrote a lengthy post about my writing activities in order to kick myself into higher gear. It worked. I didn’t meet every goal I set, but that doesn’t really bother me, for reasons detailed below. Writing a “year end” sort of post now, rather than at the end of the year, was a boost to my production last year, and we’ll see if it happens this go-round.

What’s new, pussycat?

This year’s writing theme, if you can say a year has a theme, has been “blending.” For many years I pursued creative writing largely apart from what I do as a librarian. One of my colleagues at VCU, Jenny Stout (review blog), started a discussion series within our division this year, “Research and Learning: Living Up to Our Name,” where people talk about aspects of their work, conceptual developments in the field, etc. She got the series off to a start with an hour of micro-talks, and I spoke about hunting for overlap in activities from different parts of your life, in order to increase efficiency, work strategically, etc. This has been productive for me, as I’ve found myself more dedicated to and interested in both scholarship and creative writing. I have no intention of blogging about my career as a librarian (God forbid; the internet is already littered with unread biblio-blogs), but selected contents & activities are another story.

Intersections

This week I submitted an article to a high-profile professional publication about work I did with a creative writing class at VCU. A submission is not an acceptance, but I’m a heck of a lot happier with that than with the idea lying in unquiet repose in my brain.

Next semester I am co-teaching with Tom De Haven a semester-long class about writing research-intensive fiction. This is aimed at students interested in developing both research skills and a proficiency at incorporating research into their fiction. Course description (ENGL 437).

Next March I’ll be delivering a paper at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA 36). This paper will blend a lifelong literary interest and my more recent interest in digital humanities methodologies. Its title is “Node, Edge, or Tentacle? Data and the Lovecraftian Literary Network,” and it’s about a computational analysis of Selected Letters.

I have various future scholarly activities in the works associated with the above agenda(e). Just what form they take depends to some extent on how things go this spring, and realistically they aren’t going to be started until summer, but it’s good to have plans.

Into the field

This year I’ve read many good books, and some excellent ones. I’ve heard a number of people talking about a new golden age for the Weird, even a Weird Renaissance, and it’s hard to argue. From a score of anthologies, including the VanderMeers’ monumental The Weird, to continued excellence from Weird Fiction Review, to Mike Kelly’s establishment of Year’s Best Weird Fiction, things are coming up Weird all over. The kind of horror I like to read, which has a strong overlap with Weird, but not entirely, seems to have surged as well.

One of the best things I’ve read this year (am still reading, actually) is John B. Thompson’s Merchants of Culture: the Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century. Ross Lockhart, who has himself been having an impressive year, was talking about the book a couple months back, and so I picked it up. So glad I did. Merchants of Culture is an analysis of contemporary publishing in terms of Bourdieuian fields, among other things. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last decade trying to wrap my head around publishing and writing, and this book was part of what reshaped my thinking about authorship this year, from the role of scholarship in my creative life to the places where I aspire to publish.

I regularly attend the Annual Conference of the American Library Association, but this academic year I’m attending or have attended various other meetings. I was invited to attend/speak at Digital Humanities and the Dartmouth College Library, a one-day event in advance of The Digital Crucible, a conference focused on computation in the arts and humanities. Last month I attended the James River Writers Conference here in Richmond, where I moderated a panel entitled “Write What You Research.” Last weekend I attended the 40th World Fantasy Convention, where I met people across the range of activities in the fantastic arts (more on that another day). Next year I’m pleased to be guesting at RavenCon here in Richmond. The list of people I’ve met as a result of all of these activities is in the hundreds, so I’m not doing a roll call, but I will say that in the process I’ve made new friends, met heroes, and gotten a better understanding of the ecosystem of the writing world. I did (or am doing) all of this for a host of reasons, but Merchants of Culture led me to view my activities through a new and improved lens.

What have I accomplished in 2014?

Let’s go to the data…

statistics for fiction

Fiction Statistics, 2005-11/14/2014

Blog Statistics, 2005-11/14/2014

Blog Statistics, 2005-11/14/2014

Fiction & Blogging, 2005-11/14/2014

Fiction & Blogging, 2005-11/14/2014

I could talk about this in various ways, but I think the easiest thing to say is that I feel like I’m back on track. If I’d tracked things by month, and only shown the last two or three years, the difference would be even more stark.

Old goals

Write at least 100,000 words of completed or truly “in progress” fiction rough drafts by December 31, 2014.
Didn’t happen. The last day I added to my count, it was around 18,000. Since then I’ve written three stories, substantially revised several stories, and started and abandoned a novel.

Place six pieces of fiction for publication.
Placed three, which was actually my “good enough” goal, so I’m fine with that. I’ve got four stories out right now, one of which is a “hold for consideration,” so that’s good.

Get back to blogging.
Check.

Read at least two books per month.
Some months it was only one, but some months it was four, so… check.

2015 goals, you say?

Some of this is going to sound familiar, but…

  • Write at least 100,000 words of completed or truly “in progress” fiction
  • Complete enough thematically similar short fiction for a strong collection
  • Place six pieces of fiction and one essay for publication
  • Find a home for my Seattle magical realism novel
  • Draft two new scholarly articles or opinion pieces
  • Keep blogging
  • Read at least two books per month

I have a few other things on the stove, as well, some on front burners and some on the back, some small and some large. Further bulletins as events warrant.

And last but not least, thanks are more than due to my friend, partner, wife, and sine qua non, Kyla Tew. Without her support and patience, it would be difficult to do this.

Throwback Thursday, You Say?

In the mood for some Throwback Thursday action? Below are links to the top five posts I’ve written here…

On the Existence of the Female Tentacle” — 312 views — All about women who write Lovecraftian fiction.

Release the Leeches!” — 175 views — Release day and my writeup, lo those several months ago, for The Children of Old Leech.

Mary Chiaramonte / Land of Strangers / Eric Schindler Gallery” — 134 views — Review of Mary Chiaramonte’s 2012 show.

All the Colors of the Night” — 134 views — Review of Thomas Van Auken’s 2012 show at Eric Schindler Gallery.

Writing Year 2013: Statistics, Lies, Stagnation, and the Human Heart” — 115 views — An analysis with charts and statistics of my writing activities over a seven-year period.

Recent Batrachian Readings

two books

Some recent reading

Currently I’m reading Black Wings of Cthulhu 2, a Lovecraftian anthology edited by S.T. Joshi, jumping around from story to story as the mood takes me. The stories range widely across the things that fit under the “L” rubric, and Joshi addresses in his introduction the question of the breadth of materials that might be considered “Lovecraftian.” So far I’ve most enjoyed Jason C. Eckhardt’s “And the Sea Gave Up the Dead,” Richard Gavin’s “The Abject,” Caitlín Rebekah Kiernan’s “Houndwife,” and Nick Mamatas’ “Dead Media.” Nicholas Royle’s “The Other Man” does partake of the alienation of HPL’s “The Outsider,” but it feels to me far more Ligotti (or perhaps Cisco) than Lovecraft—which I say not as a criticism, but more along the lines of a signpost for something that was both an unexpected and pleasant turn from the course.

Among this anthology’s stories, however, I could not fully engage with Rick Dakan’s “Correlated Discontents.” I usually don’t offer much critical commentary here, but this story is problematic. It’s not that it’s not well written— it flows nicely and has some good characterization. It’s not that it’s not interesting—it is, doing something novel with Lovecraft as a character (of sorts). On a fundamental level, however, the basic events of the story are not particularly plausible. Randy Stafford’s review at IFP touches on some of this, but in addition to the question of the familiarity of Lovecraft readers with his letters, academic research faculty with student assistants, labs, etc., do not present their findings at film festivals. I understand the intent here, both the characters’ and the author’s, but—no. Some things make it difficult to suspend one’s disbelief, whether the sudden appearance of “warp speed” in hard SF or the fantastical depiction of mundane things. In fairness, I will say that other readers had different reactions to this story, including Ellen Datlow, who gave it an Honorable Mention for YBH.

I haven’t yet started into, but am eagerly anticipating, Mike Griffin‘s Far From Streets. It came in the mail last week, and I’ve got it cued up on the to-read pile.

In Belgium, No One Can Hear You Fhtagn

What waits between the stars? Story illustration by Peter Szmer

What waits between the stars? Lovecraft eZine illustration by Peter Szmer

It’s been a pretty good month. I’m delighted to announce that I have sold French-language translation and publication rights for my Lovecraftian SF story, “How Rare Are Light and Life.” My first foreign rights sale! They were acquired by Patrick Dechesne for a Lovecraftian anthology forthcoming this autumn. Patrick is starting a French-language house, entitled “Les Editions de l’Instant,” which will publish anthologies and novels, including some translated from English. I’ll share more information about this project as I have it.

Big thanks to Mike Davis for first publishing this story in The Lovecraft eZine, a year ago this month. I’ve been pleased to hear from both friends and strangers who have read and enjoyed it over the last twelve months, and I’m glad to see its wings tentacles spread a little farther.