Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: September 2016

A friend asked me recently how I felt about the World Fantasy Award association’s decision to stop using the bust of Lovecraft as its trophy.

These handsome fellas right here.

Short answer: I think it was a great decision, and will benefit us all in the long run.

Long answer:  Have you ever read “The Thing on the Doorstep”?

Some people might argue it’s one of Lovecraft’s best–or, at least, most innovative–works.  Aaron Mahnke (of the podcast Lore) claims that it’s the first horror story to introduce the setting of the insane asylum.  (I take a bit of issue with that…insane asylums were definitely present before then–“The Repairer of Reputations”, anyone?–but he still was one of the first.)  The story revolves around mind control and the living dead, all well before they were popular in mainstream horror.  On top of that, it’s a classic unreliable narrator set-up that starts off with a bang.

It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to shew by this statement that I am not his murderer.

Damn, right?

Well, I’ve always just fucking HATED it.

Why?  (Spoilers, but come on, the man died in 1937.)

Because the malevolent force is a wizard who’s functionally immortal because he possesses the mind of those close to him.  Only–wouldn’t you know it?–he was unfortunate enough to have a single daughter.  And her mind was weak, as a woman’s is.  And thus he would not have the full force of his strength as long as he inhabited his daughter’s body.  So, of course, he possessed her, got her to seduce a man (our hapless protagonist), and then gained control of his mind.

While I can appreciate its literary merits, I’m never going to like it.  I’m never going to embrace it and think that this work encapsulated his genius.  I read it and think things like, “Oh, come on.”  Or, “Motherfucker, your long-suffering estranged wife was vastly more powerful and hearty than you ever could hope to be.”*

I can deal with that, though, because clearly women confused and baffled Lovecraft.  That’s really the only story with a female protagonist.  Most of the time, he just seems to forget they exist, and honestly, I’m okay with that.

But what if elements of the weak-willed, silly woman was present in every. single. one. of his stories?  Would I be able to ignore it?  Would my feelings about his writing stay the same?

I don’t think any of us would deeply enjoy reading an author who highlighted a feature of our core identity and used it as a weapon, a threat, or a joke in every single one of his works.  But I think it’s really easy to forget that those elements–and to be clear, I am talking about his blatant racism, there’s no getting around that fact–are there, if you’re not the one being singled out.  As a white female, I’m not phased by the cat’s name in “The Rats in the Walls”.  It doesn’t immediately jump out at me that every single black person in his stories seems to be either simple but upstanding or literally a member of a barbaric death-cult.

But if you’re the target, each and every slip and descriptor is a reminder that you’re not welcome.

I hate boring horror.  I hate things that strive to be as traditionally frightening as possible, both within horror as a whole and within Lovecraftian fiction specifically.  I think a lot of us do.  I think we seek out innovation, and that’s why the mythos has been such a fertile stomping ground–because there are so few rules, so few facts set in stone.

But if we keep telling people they’re not welcome–or tell them not to be silly, of course they are, and then expect them to be happy about a gift of a hateful man’s head–we’re never going to learn all that horror can be.  Diversity can be a buzzword, but it can also be our salvation.

We can only read stories of broad-chested English adventurers exploring the deep sea/Antarctic/Congo who stumble across an ancient cult and then get destroyed by something unthinkable or unknowable.  We can do that for the rest of our lives, if we want.  There’s certainly plenty of that ilk out there to last a lifetime.  For some people, that might be enough.  But it’s not for me.

The Cultist

*I love Sonia Greene.  I really, really do.

I haven’t written since March?  Good god.  Are any of you still out there?  I don’t blame you if you’re not.

Since March and now, I have defended my dissertation, gotten the hell out of graduate school, and dove back into medical school.  Life is far, far better than it was.  I never did finish Flatland (yes, I know, it’s like 90 pages).

Apparently, horror country/bloodgrass is its own musical genre.  I’m baffled I haven’t heard about this until now.

I’m not sure if that’s a digiridoo or throat-singing in the second one, but I approve wholeheartedly.

I’ve been writing in fits and starts, but I’ve been fighting to get to a more regular schedule.  I’ve gotten one short story accepted so far…I’ll post the deets when it’s out.  (I was told sometime this fall…so, here’s hoping.)  Its subtitle might as well be, “Here’s how the Cultist feels about graduate school!” (and I will admit I was in tears writing most of it), but, eh, I guess they liked it well enough.

I’ve got a lot of questions about horror-writing (or, more broadly, speculative fiction in general).  And yes, I have read Stephen King’s On Writing, and I did find it quite useful.  But it’s not all-encompassing.  Particularly

  1. As far as I can tell, seems to be the go-to for current fiction calls.  And it seems to boil down to two classes: the calls that pay a (tiny) flat fee per story ($5-15), and the kind that pay per word (generally .3-.6/word).  The former seem much more casual and independent, and, as far as I can tell, the per-word folks seem to be better established and more serious.  Is it better just to apply everywhere and get your name out there, as beggars can’t be choosers?  Or should you be somewhat judicious?  I can see arguments for both, TBH.
  2. How can you tell if your pseudonym is stupid?
  3. Where does one find feedback?  I don’t know any other horror writers in the immediate proximity, and Stephen King seems to feel that feedback is necessary, but writer’s groups are/can be a bit masturbatory.
  4. Is there a market for people only interested in writing short stories?  It seems that people use short stories to break into the world of novels, but I think that horror novels are a very different (and frequently more disappointing) beast than short horror.  (It is far, far harder to avoid telegraphing the ending in a novel than a story–furthermore, short stories have room to be weird and inconsistent, and I adore that.)

So, I’m at a bit of an impasse right now (not that it’s keeping me from writing).  I’ll try to figure this out and post as I go.  Until then, I remain

The Cultist