Welcome to the sixteenth installment of my “Author of the Week”! These articles focus on Weird Fiction and/or Lovecraftian authors that I think more readers should know about. If you have suggestions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
This week’s author is Pete Rawlik. Pete is the author of Reanimators, The Weird Company: The Secret History of H. P. Lovecraft’s Twentieth Century, and many short stories. I asked Pete five questions:
Please tell us about yourself—as much or as little as you’d like to say.
I was born at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota but grew up outside Philadelphia, with summers on Assawoman Bay in Maryland. I studied Marine Biology at Florida Tech. I’ve made pizzas and donuts, worked as a phlebotomist in Emergency Rooms and Surgeries. I’ve been a microbiological laboratory technician and the night receptionist in a morgue. While in college I worked with a number of bands while they toured in Florida including The Psychedelic Furs, Cyndi Lauper, Night Ranger, and Skinny Puppy. I now work for an agency of the state of Florida designing, implementing and managing environmental monitoring programs from Orlando to Key West. I’m unusually fond of musicals including My Fair Lady, Hair, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Shock Treatment, The Phantom of the Paradise, Chess and Pitch Perfect. My favorite movie is the original Rear Window. I read voraciously and have a massive collection of Lovecraftiana, Charlie Chan, and Nero Wolfe books. I binge watch, mostly British series such as A Touch of Frost, George Gently, Midsomer Murders, Monarch of the Glen, and Doc Martin. My musical tastes include Depeche Mode, Concrete Blonde, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Madness, Oingo Boingo, Gwen Stefani, Lady Gaga, Meat Loaf, Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, K. D. Lang, Teja Bell, Shakespear’s Sister and Bauhaus. I think Laurie Anderson is a genius. My literary influences include H. P. Lovecraft, John Steinbeck, Larry Niven, Neil Gaiman, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and early George R. R. Martin particularly the Tuf Haviland stories. I dread reading Neal Stephenson but always come away thrilled and glad that I took the time.
I’ve been to Japan, been struck by lightning, been bitten by an alligator, and hunkered down during Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina. I lost a small chunk of scalp in 1992 when my pony tail got caught in the prop of an airboat I was piloting. For twenty years I ran my own rare book store and bought my first house with the help of profits from a first edition set of The Lord of the Rings. I gave up bookselling (mostly) to write fiction.
How and why did you begin writing?
I can remember starting to write stories when I was about ten years old, in high school I wrote poetry and apparently a novella called A Pulpish Tale featuring Robert E. Howard’s Kathulos ( Written long hand on legal pads which I recently rediscovered). This would have been shortly after I read Skull-Face. In college I continued writing crappy vampire poetry (did I mention my Goth phase? Doesn’t work well in Florida), and a few stories mimicking Larry Niven. I spent a year world building an Alderson Disk called the Glom, complete with its own mythos which ended up being used in some epic roleplaying sessions. All of this stuff got trunked after I graduated and I focused on research and technical writing.
In the late Nineties I got involved in fandom and wrote some pieces for the SFSFS Shuttle and sold one piece, On the Far Side of the Apocalypse, to Talebones. This was my first professional sale, and it was immediately followed by a huge slump. Unable to find a market for my fiction I found inspiration in Joan Stanley’s Ex Libris Miskantonici and Peter Cannon’s The Chronology Out of Time. I used my vast Lovecraftian library and began working on a history of Miskatonic Valley, the first part of which was published in Crypt of Cthulhu in 2001. It was working on this project that I realized that several of Lovecraft’s characters including Asenath Waite, Randolph Carter, Walter Gilman, and the narrator from The Shadow Over Innsmouth should have all been around Arkham at the same time. I filed this little kernel away for later use.
As a bookseller at conventions and shows I was constantly bombarded with questions from aspiring writers about publishing strategies, not that I knew anything. It got so bad that I came up with a canned rebuttal about how I would do it. In 2010 my wife, tired of hearing me repeat the same old mantra challenged me to put my money where my mouth was and put my own plan to work. Following a year of writing book reviews I published six stories in 2010-2011. After this, I began writing a novel with the working title The League of Lovecraftian Gentlemen, which was put aside while I wrote some stories to flesh out one of the characters. Those fleshing out stories turned into Reanimators and gave me a grip on the character of Doctor Hartwell. Then The League of Lovecraftian Gentlemen became The Miskatonic Men’s Club, and then The Miskatonic Men’s Aide Society, and then finally The Weird Company.
What is it about Lovecraftian horror and Weird Fiction that appeals to you?
This was likely inevitable.
First of all, as an adult I’ve come to realize that there was abuse in my family, but it was mostly literary in nature. My father made a habit of reading me Lovecrfat’s The Rats in the Walls as a bed time story. So there’s that. Another issue may have been my reading and collecting habits. We made monthly runs to the Book Swap and I was always finding books by Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley, August Derleth and Robert Bloch. Somewhere along the line I decided to begin collecting Cthulhu Mythos fiction, and this naturally expanded into the Weird. So one reason I write Weird and Lovecraftian is because that is what I read, it is what I know.
But as for the appeal, there is something subversive about Weird Fiction that sets it apart from supernatural horror. To me the supernatural is very limiting, very defined. Ghosts, werewolves, vampires and the like follow set rules, and are fundamentally part of a very anthropocentric world view. They also by their very existence validate some level of an established mythology. If ghosts, devils and angels exist then there must be an afterlife. If vampires fear the cross there must be a power behind it. If men can be cursed to become beasts, or transformed through rites into mummies, then magic is real. For all the horror that the supernatural might bring to the table, it also must bring the opposite, it must bring hope.
Weird fiction, particularly cosmic horror which is usually Lovecraftian or Cthulhu Mythos in flavor, isn’t bound by this notion. In this genre once you discover the truth, there is usually (but not always) no counterbalance. The universe is a terrifying place, you are small, and weak, and pathetic in comparison. You might be food, or worse. The best thing to happen might be to die first, or not even be born. The only saving grace might be to go mad and become a monster yourself. Chances are good that the crazier you are the more likely you’ll survive. Keep in mind though that after your particular revelation is completed you might not be fit for human society.
Somehow I find all this attractive to read and write about.
I actually don’t like stories that deal with the direct discovery of cosmic horror. I prefer what I like to call tangential stories, about people who know people who were touched by the cosmic. These are people that may not know the whole truth but they know enough, and have to deal with it. It is a kind of gnostic enlightenment (as opposed to faith), and I’m interested in how people react, how they live their lives, and how that impacts relationships. This is why I often focus on secondary characters in established stories. In Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out of Time the main character Nathaniel Peaslee is possessed by an alien mind for years and his family falls apart. While he’s a fascinating character in his own right, I’m also interested in what happened to his wife and kids, how did they deal with this? How did they deal with knowing that there was something else out there? Too me this is more important than the actual event itself. Author James Morrow (who oddly went to the same high school as I did) covers this concept in his Godhead Trilogy in which humanity discovers that God has died and must then deal with that knowledge and the actual corpse, but the cause of death is relatively irrelevant. I’ve done something similar in my story Here Be Monsters in which an intrepid Deep One finally discovers Cthulhu’s tomb and the horror that waits inside is more terrifying than he and his faith had imagined.
The other thing I like to do, and am able to do in what is essentially an ever evolving artificial mythology, is to look at things from an entirely different perspective, to turn things long assumed sacrosanct on their heads: Monsters become heroes, madmen become reasonable and responsible pillars of society, the Deep Ones aren’t our enemy. I can do this because the rules aren’t that established and are ready, almost begging, to be broken and remade. Lovecraftian monsters have become so clichéd as ravenous and mindless amoebas or sex-craved space squids, that it is easy to breathe fresh air into them.
So I write a lot of Lovecraftian monsters, because it’s what I know and I’m good at it (I think).
I’ve tried writing other stuff, and I’ve sold other stuff. I have a werewolf fairy tale, and a monster story about a missing spouse, and a piece set in a graveyard during the Storm of the Century. Most of this is languishing in our version of development hell, with publication always just a few weeks away. By my count I have twenty stories pending for 2015, maybe we’ll see half of that actually come out.
Which of your books do you recommend that readers begin with?
Well that’s easy, start with the novel Reanimators which is the story of Doctor Stuart Hartwell who suffers at the hands of Doctor Herbert West and swear vengeance on him. Its twenty-five years of life and death in Lovecraft Country. Then move on to The Weird Company, which features Hartwell as a member of a team recruited for a mission to the remotest corner of the world. The Weird Company is the novel I wanted to write and serves to tie together At the Mountains of Madness, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Thing on the Doorstep, Through the Gates of the Silver Key, and John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There? Astute readers might see links to other stories as well, some not even in our genre.
Would you mind listing your books for us?
My better short stories can be found in:
- Crypt of Cthulhu #94
- Tales of the Shadowmen #7, #8, #9, #10 and #11.
- Dead But Dreaming 2
- Future Lovecraft
- Horror for the Holidays
- Worlds of Cthulhu
- Eldritch Chrome
- Fungi #21
- Techno-Goth Cthulhu
- Undead and Unbound
- Tales of Jack the Ripper
- Fossil Lake
- Kaiju Rising
- Dark Rites of Cthulhu
- Steampunk Cthulhu
- World War Cthulhu
- In the Court of the Yellow King
- The Starry Wisdom Library
A big “thank you” to Pete for taking the time to answer my questions!
(Previous “Authors of the Week”: Richard Gavin, Molly Tanzer, William Holloway, Brian Hodge, Elizabeth Bear, Don Webb, Nathan Ballingrud, Stephen Mark Rainey, Scott Jäeger, John Claude Smith, Livia Llewellyn, Daniel Mills, Gary Myers, Jeffrey Thomas, Ann K. Schwader.)