Scratching & More Scratching

What’s new, pussycat? A couple of largely news-free writing months for me. As I expected a while back, I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple months raising my voice, doing my best to help hold power accountable, etc., etc. No glory in it, but when your elected representatives don’t just disagree with you or ignore you, but actually lie to the media regularly about your existence… you have to speak up.

scratchAlas for missing AWP, given it was just a couple hours away, but I have other things on the go, and hours and dollars are finite. This year I plan to attend ICFA and NecronomiCon, both with my scholarly hat on (though I’m participating in a group reading at ICFA, and TBD about NecronomiCon). If things go as planned, I’ll also be participating in some group readings around Richmond this year. Details forthcoming.

Are you a writer? Do you aspire to make any money from your writing, but aren’t quite there yet? Read Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin. It’s new out this year, and it’s got some really good stuff in it about aspects of the writing life that often go publicly unaddressed, and about which many people are not well informed. All sorts of good essays and interviews in it, and worth its weight in gold for the blend of windows it offers into the life of the “full time writer.” In some regards it’s of a piece with Nick Mamatas’ Starve Better, which I’ve previously mentioned, and Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife.

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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.

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.

MFA, NYC, and Motherfucking Rock Stars

Cover of Spring 1989 New York Writer

NYC, you say?

If you didn’t know already, Nick Mamatas always seems to hear about the interesting books. His post about MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction was the first time I’d heard about that (2014) book, and nor is this the first time I’ve heard about something from him before my RSS feeds, database alerts, etc. Actual recommendations mean so much more when we’re practically swaddled by hype coming from every surface that can be used to advertise.

I’m currently reading the book, and, as Nick says, am reviewing my own life in tandem with it. As always, I feel a bit of either culture, being an academic who writes on the fringes of both literary and genre culture. Maybe in 90 years I’ll be (re?)discovered as the American H(aruki) P(hillips) Kafka, if we aren’t simply beating each other with sticks and eating children by then. In any case, it’s an interesting book that both gets at and ignores literary cultures, albeit quietly acknowledging the gaps.

Lately I’ve noticed a surge among my fellow writing people in discussion of writerly behavior. Not the “have a sweet business card to impress important people” behavior, but the “go out and drink seven vodka sours before 4 p.m., shoot an elephant, and hump wildly before writing” writerly behavior. Some of this ties back to Chuck Wendig’s post about “Turning Writers Into Motherfucking Rockstars,” which I’d hazard to guess was 9/10 satire, 1/10 yearning for a little old-fashioned boat rocking. On this subject, a quote from Alexander Chee’s “My Parade,” which appears in MFA vs NYC:

The boom in the MFA, whatever you might think of it, didn’t come about because young writers wanted to imitate Carver’s work, it came about because too many of them imitated the late Carver’s life, too much — and administrators everywhere began to demand some sort of proof that the writer knows how to behave. There was a demand for writers with the skill and the will to teach, and to be a colleague, participating in the work of the department. You can sniff all you like that a book is the only credential that matters, but chances are, you haven’t met a provost. In the aftermath of these unaccredited greats, the rest of us are required to present our degrees.