A week or so ago, a Facebook friend of mine in the composer world shared an image of CD he’d recently received, called The Great God Pan: An Opera in 2 Acts. I ended up chatting with Ross Crean, the composer of the opera based on Arthur Machen’s work. I had just come home from NecronomiCon, where there was a panel on Machen’s work. I missed that panel, but people who had attended mentioned that a panelist spoke about the “psychedelic nature” imagery that shows up in Machen’s work.
Crean’s opera uses unorthodox instrumentation (prepared piano) to bring Machen’s trippy masterpiece to life.
Over at Greydogtales, a weird fiction blog, author/critic Paul St. John Macinktosh has an essay that examines the latest kerfuffle in the weird fiction community. (Lovecraft’s racism and the legacy of his fiction in many ways mirrors the current culture war over Civil War monuments). In the essay, he highlights POC writers (N.K. Jemisin, Victor Lavalle) who subvert/revise/challenge the subtextual xenophobia in HPL’s work in addition to calling out the denialism/minimizing that many aficionados use.
If there was a huge racial component to Lovecraft’s definition of “unknown,” then you could almost read into such remarks a frustrated longing to engage with other unknown peoples, as much as fear and distaste towards them. That’s as plausible an interpretation as any claim that Lovecraft’s mature work is some kind of systematic dog-whistling for underlying racism, with Deep Ones and ocean-going cultists standing in for black Americans and Catholic immigrants.
Link: Lovecraft’s Legacy
My first Patreon post is a draft of a weird story called HAIR-NEST. It’s about race, gender and the politics of black hair. Influences/inspiration: Kara Walker, Angela Carter. And one of the characters was inspired by a certain actress/wellness guru with initials GP.
I’m still recovering from my weekend hanging out with weird fiction writers and fans. I will talk more about the panels I attended/moderated at a later time. In the meantime, here are some pictures.
The Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird happens this Saturday (March 25, 2017) in Atlanta/Decatur. I will be moderating the following session:
PANEL: Other Weird Tales: Unraveling Paradigms as the Protagonist Shifts Away from the Cis White Male
Weird fiction, like SF/F/H, has predominantly centered on CIS white male protagonists mostly written by CIS white male authors. One of the most dynamic aspects of the contemporary Weird Renaissance is that this is no longer true. Non-CIS-white-male writers are not only altering the concept of what the Weird is as a literary form but also pushing its boundaries and defying editorial and publishing expectations. How does the narrative shift when the protagonist is a woman, a person of color, LBGT and/or disabled? What are some examples of good contemporary, or older Weird tales with Other protagonists that exemplify these different qualities? What challenges have the authors on the panel personally faced in approaching the Weird from Other perspectives–cultural, gender, orientation, etc.? Finally, how are new writers, new perspectives and new audiences opening up the Weird and spec-lit in general to new markets, and conversely how are new markets (small press, self-publishing) facilitating exposure to different voices?
Moderator: Craig Laurance Gidney
Panelists: Mike Allen, Gerald L. Coleman, Valjeanne Jeffers, Damien Angelica Walters
I will also be doing a reading at 1:50pm
And there is a Mass Signing at 5.15pm
Scott Nicolay interviewed me for The Outer Dark, a podcast about weird, dark and horror fiction. Thanks to Scott for having me on–the conversation was wide ranging and touched on the Negritude movement, surrealism and Rihanna!
Craig Laurance Gidney: Writing the Beautiful Mess
Also, The Nectar of Nightmares is up for preorder!
Dreams of Shreds and Tatters by Amanda Downum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
An ambitious, if uneven update of the King in Yellow set in modern Vancouver. The plot has echoes of Orpheus and Eurydice, with the ‘underworld’ being the surreal, doomed dreamscape kingdom ruled by an eldritch abomination. Graduate student and lucid dreamer Liz and her boyfriend Alex search for her missing friend, the artist Blake in Vancouver. They find themselves enmeshed in a sinister drug and magic fueled underworld.
Pros: The characters are for the most part, skillfully drawn. Kudos to the portrayal of the sexuality spectrum. Liz is an asexual in a loving, if complicated relationship with her boyfriend. Blake was involved with a male lover. All of these facts are presented in an organic manner. The writing is lovely and full of atmosphere. The nightmarish imagery of the liminal world of Carcosa, with its strange constellations and ruined, sky-piercing towers, is worth the price of admission.
Cons: The plot was a bit muddled, and a couple of characters—particularly the gun toting badass monster killer Lailah—was a bit of a false note. It felt like she belonged to a different story. The novel is short; I would have liked to linger in the author’s world a bit more. The loose ends the author leaves dangling would make an excellent sequel.
Recommended for fans of weird fiction, Caitlin R Kiernan, Shirley Jackson and the music of CocoRosie.
British writer Joe Orton is famous for his blackly comic plays and and for the tragic manner of his death: being bludgeoned to death by his lover with a hammer. He is less well-known for his fiction. He published one novel, Head to Toe, a brilliant piece of Weird Fiction that languishes in obscurity. I say it’s brilliant, but your mileage may vary. The novel is set on the body of a giant being (referred to as an afreet) and concerns the wild adventures experienced by an ordinary schlub who wanders up on the creature’s body, finding that entire societies live there. The humor is Swiftean farce, but the underlying mood is one of Kafkaesque anomie. The text is marred by some archiac misogyny and the plot is episodic. It still manages to be haunting, full of dream logic. In a way, it’s like an adult, very camp and very queer Alice in Wonderland kind of phantasmorgia.
I actually don’t think I write horror, as in flesh-eating zombies or vampires or splatter punk. I tend towards dark fantasy or ‘weird’ fiction. But there is a definite darkness in what I write. And the forthcoming collection (not to mention the eBook series, Variations) has at least one piece that could be considered straightforward horror. Someone always asks me why I write what I write. Why so dark, so pessimistic?
Part of me wants to use the ‘channelling voices’ excuse: that the characters just sort of use me as a vessel to tell their stories. And I think every writer has a moment when they feel that: Where did that come from? But if I am channelling voices, why are they such sad, and at times, disturbed voices?
A large part of me being drawn to dark fiction is, of course, I grew up on horror. I macerated in it. I live in DC, where the movie The Exorcist took place, and the true story that inspired it happened in just-across-the-border Mount Rainer. It was a young rite of passage to visit the terrifyingly rickety Exorcist steps in Georgetown. Stephen King burst on the scene in my childhood. I remember, vividly, those lurid covers from the 70s. Cryptozoology was serious business. I used to devour books documenting the existence of Bigfoot, the Yeti, the Jersey Devil, and nearby Maryland’s own ominous Goatman. I even had an aunt who told me her creepily prophetic dreams. Summers we went to Atlantic City where, at the time, there was still a freakshow that featured a fearsome Ape Girl who would escape and bum rush the audience.
Or maybe it’s something more. I learned pretty young that the world is a terrible place, full of disease, torture and worse. I think I write dark fiction and about dark subjects because its cathartic, and helps me work through the fear and anger I have. The ‘voice’ I am channelling is my own subconscious. I contend, in my own fiction, the real world horrors my characters face are often worse than any supernatural demon.
The up and coming author James Champagne sent me a drawing of Mehitabel, the strange angel featured in this year’s weird Holiday story that I sent out last week. I plan to have the story available online in Christmas 2014. Thanks so much, James!