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April 1, 2011
Lovecraft eZine April 2011: utility fog, elder gods, and lies lies lies
Posted by brandon h bell
(Here there be spoilers.)
This weekend the Lovecraft eZine releases their April issue, including a reprint of my story Things We Are Not, originally published in the M-Brane Press anthology of the same name.
I recall my sixteen year old self, and what he would think cool. The Lovecraft eZine would have been very cool indeed to that kid.
I discovered Lovecraft in middle school and read everything I could find by this weird old guy. That led on to the good stuff by Robert W. Chambers, Ted Klein, Thomas Ligotti, A Merritt, and so many others. Writers long dead, or still banging away at their keyboards.
Many of my earliest stories were attempts at Lovecraftiana: dark tales without hope. I went on to find Philip K. Dick, William Burroughs, and Samuel Delany... stories by Ellison and Triptree and Bunch that satisfied on a level those old horror tales didn't.
As with so many things worthy of Love, Lovecraft is deeply faulted. Both good and bad is the language: florid and convoluted, old-fashioned in a way that can prove impenetrable. Yet, when it works, that language is essential to the function of the story. Like tentacles insinuating themselves into the reader's mind.
Tentacles: the cliched morphology of the Lovecraftian subgenre. But sometimes tentacles are Just Right.
There is, most significant to me, the misogyny and racism inherent in Lovecraft. Therein swarthy is a damnation, cats are named nigger-man, and monsters are vaginal unspeakables.
Worthy of Love?
Yes, without doubt. And having the benefit of time on our side, I'd suggest even the bad in Lovecraft becomes a useful thing. A thing to be addressed, dealt with, an object for discussion.
With Things We Are Not, I set out to write something based on a challenge issued within The Online Writer Workshop (OWW) to create a scene in first, second, then third person. I ended up writing, not a single scene, but a whole tale using this device.
In writing from a 'non-standard' point of view, there is this consideration to be made: why? What is the point? The best stories use a certain point of view to a specific end. So I thought... For what reason could this progression of points of view be used, other than as an indulgence?
That's when I understood that everyone in my story, even the freaking animals, were liars. I thought back to Barker's line (from In the Hills, The Cities) (that NIN lifted for a song on Pretty Hate Machine) "stale incense, old sweat, and lies..." I was on to something.
I thought back further than Lovecraft, to Poe. I recalled Hopfrog and other characters who's jests were cruel or vengeful, whose actions had consequences even they did not anticipate, or who were unreliable narrators. Events came to reveal more than the characters revealed themselves.
Could I write from these three POVs, but essentially from a consistent point of view? How could a single character transcend from I to You to a near-omniscience?
I realized: there are ghosts in the fog. But no ordinary fog, because this city... this city is an arm of The Cordoned City. It was filled with utility fog before things went wrong. It still is.
Writing the first scene, when that self-proclaimed magpie observes that Win is 'not Gandhied', I realized the plague world I'd built up in my mind awhile back but never used had inserted itself into my narrative.
I understood then the lies these characters might tell, and truths they'd keep from each other. I also understood what that damn bird was up to. Win, on the other hand, surprised even me.
I'm a fan of Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing. You might say, evangelist of. With TWAN, I put away my typical outlining and set out to see if I'd internalized Egri's lessons about how well-written stories function. This also allowed my language to do its Lovecraft thing, and grow into odd shapes along the way. I pruned a bit, of course, and... that language is the language of the weird.
What I ended up with was an odd story filled with little nooks and crannies that --I hope-- will particularly delight others who are fans of Lovecraft, ugliness and all. That I was able to include utility fog, a failed singularity, a rat that looks a bit like Tim Delaughter, at least two jibs at Danielle Steele, a plague caused by a Bollywood adaptation of Stephen King's The Cycle of the Werewolf... my sixteen year old self would be pleased.
I guess the last thing worth saying about Things We Are Not is that it, like many of my stories, is a shard in a common history where in fact the singularity has not failed, but is experienced so differently by people that it is not until far down the line that these splintered paths begin, again, to converge in a glittering white city that I've called the teleopolis. It is an ending place, where something hunts the last people inside the city, and outside its walls the final stray tribes of humanity war amongst each other, striving to enter the city, unaware of what awaits them.
Happy (I hope!) Reading. :) And I hope the other folks in this issue of the Lovecraft eZine don't mind slummin' it with me too much. I feel quite honored to see the company my story keeps.
Brandon H. Bell