Welcome to the tenth installment of my “Author of the Week”! Every Sunday, I post about a Weird Fiction and/or Lovecraftian author that I think more readers should know about. (I’m late this week because my entire family has had a bad flu for the past few days. Ugh.)
If you have suggestions, please email me at email@example.com
This week’s author is John Claude Smith. I asked John five questions:
Please tell us about yourself, as little or as much.
I write dark stuff. Writing helps me to better understand myself and the world around me. I live over here but should live over there.
It’s the stories that matter.
How and why did you begin writing?
Though inspired by some of the horror fiction I had read when quite young, I did not start writing until I was a teenager, primarily because I was initially driven by art, much of it dealing with futuristic cars and monsters. Always in need of a creative outlet, I moved on to words, starting with bad lyrics and poetry, before moving on to short stories that veered into science fiction and Outer Limits/Twilight Zone territory.
As 30 approached, looming before me like a monolith about to topple and crush me, I decided to get serious about this horror writing gig, only to be side-tracked shortly thereafter by music journalism, mainly reviews, for many years. I wrote for a variety of magazines that dealt with industrial, gothic, metal, and experimental music and the motley relatives to these genres; these magazines included Outburn, Industrial Nation, Side-Line, and Alternative Press. For the more experimental music, including dark ambient and power electronics, many of my reviews came off as short stories in a way, taking those sounds and creating worlds and curious creatures in relation to the sounds.
As life tumbled out of sync, I came back to horror fiction in the early 2000s. Been steadily building on my foundation of descriptive, unflinching horror fiction since then, with a more weird fiction slant now, though I believe everybody’s spin on what is weird fiction circa 2014 is open to interpretation.
What is it about Lovecraftian horror and Weird Fiction that appeals to you?
With Lovecraft, it’s always been the depth of imagination, an ambiance of dread, and the ever popular indifferent universe theme, though over the last couple years I find myself more fascinated by his (and other weird fiction writers: Barron, check; Nicolay, check) grasp of the truly alien. This latter element has become a focus for me. When one reads of the alien entities and elements in stories such as “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Shadow Out of Time,” one is subject to the weird in indescribable ways.
An element from the latter story inspired the single weirdest vision for a story I’ve ever had. A scene so utterly alien, it left me stunned. Putting this down for a tale in progress is going to stretch my skills, but it’s part of the process we all go through as we learn and grow as writers. I may (and still will) dip into harsh, sometimes graphic elements in my fiction, but I feel less inclined to have to go through the ugly stuff, more intent on embracing the alien and weird in ways that suggest awe as much as fear. There’s beauty in the weird I want to get to know better. I see that as a place to explore more solidly now, though who’s to say what I will be exploring in a year…
Which of your books do you recommend that readers begin with?
My latest collection, Autumn in the Abyss, would be the best place to start, though if one wants to observe a progression in skills and storytelling, my first collection, The Dark is Light Enough For Me, should do the trick.
Reviewers have noted a strong Lovecraftian undercurrent with the latest collection. Though I did not write the title story with anything of Lovecraft in mind, the perspective steers deep into (perhaps) some of his philosophical themes a fan of his work might enjoy, though from a different angle than might be expected. (This is something I learned from reading J.G. Ballard, another paramount addition to my perspective on writing.)
Three other tales include the enigmatic Mr. Liu, an emissary for the forces of the universe intent on keeping everything in balance. Forces that note the insignificance of the human race, a theme run rampant in many of Lovecraft’s work, as noted above…and everywhere. These tales also include elements of the alien, though definitely not of the beautiful sort…though one might consider many of the images beautiful if one enjoys strange creatures. This is one of the major themes of Clive Barker’s early fiction, a love of the monsters more than the humans, and definitely a key to my stories as well. The humans are often much worse than the monsters in my tales, anyway.
I recently had a short novelette, Dandelions, published as a chapbook via Dynatox Ministries’ Dunhams Manor Press imprint. It was limited to 50 copies and is no longer available, but if you can find that one, it’s probably the most pure distillation of the weird in tone as well as bringing on the creepy creatures I’ve as yet had published. There will be another novelette from the same publisher early in 2015. There are also 3-4 tales slated for Lovecraft-based anthologies such as A Mythos Grimmly and a top secret one dealing with the Necronomicon out soon. Stay tuned!
Thanks so much for the interview and honor of being a Lovecraft writer of the week, Mike!
Would you list your Lovecraftian books?
Thanks to John for answering my questions! You can read John’s blog, The Wilderness Within.
(Previous “Authors of the Week”: Richard Gavin, Molly Tanzer, William Holloway, Brian Hodge, Elizabeth Bear, Don Webb, Nathan Ballingrud, Stephen Mark Rainey, Scott Jäeger.)