Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Webmistress Has Been Appeased!

You can now, indeed, get to this blog from http://www.fwomp.com, and while you're there find links to a few other blogs as well—even one by She Who Is Not to Be Named.

I'll be going to the pet store tomorrow to replace that dog and cat that I had to, well...you know...but it was worth the, er, sacrifice.

S. T. Joshi: A Critical Treasure

How many of you genre lovers get rankled by pretentious dilettantes that dismiss genre fiction out of hand? We have a burgeoning amateur writing scene around here, but the only genre that gets much love is that chestnut, the mystery novel. The Smart Set loves to diss the SF/F/H arena.

If only these would-be aesthetes would read the right selections from Straub, Oates, early King, even M. P. Shiel or Clark Ashton Smith. They'd (hopefully) gain a little pause and be shamed into seeing the error of their ways. Heck, the same applies to the erstatz highbrow who looks down at comic books. Okay, fine, just show me you can write prose on the level of Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman.

This is my cantankerous way of introducing a salient fact: while there is a variety of literary weird fiction from which to choose (although not enough), there is far less literary criticism of weird fiction. I really enjoy critical writing, often to an extent beyond reading original works of fiction or non-fiction, which is why I treasure S.T. Joshi. Through his editing prowess and meticulous critiquing he lends (in a hyperbolic mood I might say, "almost single-handedly") legitimacy to the sub-genre of weird fiction. I don't think it is a coincidence that H. P. Lovecraft's current recognition as a classic American author (his work can now be read under the Penguin Classics imprint--take that, ye doubters!) dovetailed with Joshi's unrelenting scholarship in this area. He is the pre-eminent Lovercraft authority, but I think his work in elevating lesser known (but great) contemporary authors such as T.E.D Klein and Thomas Ligotti just as important, and his critical evaluation of semi-obscure late nineteenth and early twentieth century authors invaluable. Joshi is discerning, he's a snob, which makes him a great signpost for those who want to broaden their weird fiction horizons. He doesn't give five star reviews to everything in sight. You can trust him.


Joshi's prolific as an author, too. Just check out his entry at amazon.com. He's also a key contributor to the massive (and, at 300 bucks, pricey) three-volume reference, Supernatural Literature of the World: An Encyclopedia.

Anybody looking down their nose at weird fiction should take even a cursory look at the sample essays on Joshi's website. They are spectacularly literate and (for me) more than a little intimidating. I'm reading one of his scholarly works right now, The Evolution of Weird Fiction, and it's awesome. I also picked up a collection he edited, Great Tales of Terror and it's a joy, as well, full of those late nineteenth/early twentieth century authors I referred to earlier. It even includes a story by the not-so-unkown Rudyard Kipling.

Not that I lay down and die for Joshi on every subject. He's a militant atheist with a habit of calling those who believe in God "stupid". Hey, everybody's entitled to an opinion, but I don't think C.S. Lewis or Flannery O'Connor or Einstein are particularly lacking in wit. Hell, I'm no genius, but my I.Q. clocks in at 143 and I believe there's a higher power, inscrutable as It may be.


But I digress. Check Joshi out. He'll make you see weird fiction in a whole new way. (Be forewarned: he's not light reading.) And if you get hold of him via correspondence, please let him know that I'd like to interview him for the FWOMP website. I made a request through the e-mail link posted on his website a few weeks ago, but so far no response. He's a busy guy. We'll see what happens.

And now for something completely different...


à

A man, in the wake of an undefined traumatic event or series of events, sets out on a road trip to an undisclosed destination, from an undisclosed departure point, somewhere in America. Along the way he looks back on what may have transpired and looks forward to what might be, sometimes simultaneously. What happened has had a psychologically wrenching effect on him. He is prone to making comments like "God will not perform here anymore" and "I go and come back like bad dreams and symptoms." Does he recover? Find redemption? Does it even matter?


No, it's not the plot of an L. P. Davies novel, although it may sound like it. Rather it's the storyline of Echolyn's marvelous 2002 release, "Mei". A CD consisting of 49 minutes of music weaved together into a single composition, this is a slice of American progressive rock that demands exposure. Simultaneously conjuring up introspection and raw emotion, the piece is beautiful and evocative and powerful all at once. The recurring musical themes that are reworked and reshaped throughout remain with you after three or four listens. Layered, intricate vocals compliment top-notch musicianship. The whole thing is great, with the first eleven minutes being among the best that popular music has to offer. Echolyn remain one of our most literate and accomplished bands. Like S.T. Joshi, they are an American treasure. Check out the review at Ground and Sky, the most literate (and reliable) progressive rock review site on the Web. (And when you visit, say "Hi," to Brandon for me.)

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Pacific Grove: Haven of Horror?

Hi, Whoever's Out There:

I've been intensely pursuing this blog thing for months, particularly in the context of being part of our Fiction Writers of the Monterey Peninsula (FWOMP) website. I think a link to this blog from that website will show up any day, if the Webmistress smiles down on us with favor. Maybe I'll have to sacrifice something or someone to make sure she does (just joking please Webmistress have mercy).

Anyway, this may be boring to you, but I need to tell you what FWOMP is before we proceed. It's a group of regional writers, of which I am a part, that have self-published two books, Monterey Shorts and Monterey Shorts 2: More on the Line. The volumes have ended up being fairly successful regionally, because we required the stories be set in and around the Monterey Peninsula. People like to read about this area and the books have ended up selling pretty regularly, so I think its good to link up to the FWOMP website.

Now unlike August Derleth, who kept his regional and weird writing mostly separate, I figured I'd go the Lovecraft and King route and try to weave the two together. And, no, I am not saying I am in their league, just that I was inspired by their example.

See, I live in this little town named Pacific Grove, and since I had absolutely no intention (at least for the present) to write anything but weird fiction, I decided to see what I could do in a local setting for the stories in the book. Pacific Grove is pretty quiet, really foggy, and has a whole side to it that the tourists never see. Plus Clark Ashton Smith lived here for awhile and his house, which is on our main street, Lighthouse Avenue, boasts one of his sculptures (which I incorporated into "Night Wounds Time," from Monterey Shorts 2, by the way).

I thought I'd try to exploit these kinds of uniquenesses, and I thought I had done a pretty good job but I have a feeling that I'm in the wrong market. Not that we get all that many reviews, but I get the feeling people really aren't picking up on my stories.

Of course, you might be saying to yourselves that the pieces themselves might be crappy. There's one sure way for you to find out, of course.


Anyway, the dilemma is this: the readers attracted to our books seem to be more enamored with historical fiction. While remaining commercial, I tried to give my stories several different layers and have a little self-referential fun and even play with the storytelling timeline a bit. The response to date, putting it mildly, has been a dull thud. The other stories are clearly getting the lion's share of the attention.

Now don't get me wrong, I've only written about seven or eight complete stories so it's not like I've been banging my head against the wall, but weird fiction is a hard sell even in a general market and in a niche market like this, maybe even a harder one.


That's one of the reasons I decided to start this blog, to give me an outlet which will allow me to vent (which I just did) and delve more deeply into a subject that I really love, weird fiction, especially its literary and older, more classic flavors. It needs to have more of a presence in our local scene here because the potential for regional weird fiction is astounding, IMHO. It needs an advocate. I guess I'm that advocate (noun) and this blog is one small way to advocate (verb).

In upcoming posts I'll be discussing, hopefully in a distinctly non-pretentious way, various aspects of the art of creating weird fiction, and making observations on some of the writers, trends and pitfalls I see regarding the subject. I hope to be supplying a lot of good links, too, for people who have the same interests as me.

Well, I've spent far too much time on this already, so I'm going to get out of here. See you all soon.