He died penniless in 1937, but Howard Phillips Lovecraft still fascinates book publishers, filmmakers and artists today. Innsmouth Free Press joins a long list of those keeping the memory alive of this great short story writer—arguably the greatest horror writer of the 20th century. Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King and Neil Gaiman are only a few of the notables who pay him homage. Historical Lovecraft is a collection of short stories, written in Lovecraftian tradition, that “span the world and the centuries.” The editors challenge you: “Enter our eldritch time machine… if you dare.” —Elaine Ash
Silvia Moreno-Garcia: I’m based in Vancouver. Innsmouth Free Press is very small—a micro-press for online Lovecraftian/horror/dark fiction. My office is in the living room of my apartment. There is no intern. I think I’m a masochist. 🙂 Paula R. Stiles is the editor, and Historical Lovecraft is the first anthology in print. Our first book was Fraterfamilias.
Elaine: Why Lovecraft? Why—seventy-some years after his death—are we still reading him, writing about him, filming his oeuvre?
Silvia: While some writers find horror in semi-human creatures (werewolves, vampires, ghosts), some of the scariest enemies in Lovecraft’s world are beyond human. Beings like Cthulhu scare us because they don’t have human traits. They are completely alien. Fear of the alien, of the inhuman, resonates with us. I mean, look at “The Colour Out of Space.” What can you do to fight a colour? Unlike demonic posession, where you can phone the exorcist, there’s no manual for fighting a meteorite.
There is the feeling in Lovecraft that the universe is constantly under threat. We’re a few seconds from being devoured by some weird entity. No one is safe. There are no hunky, muscular heroes.
There is also a fear of the self. Corrupted lineages, madness, that kind of thing. And you don’t have control over that either. Lovecraft said it was important to have “a certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the dæmons of unplumbed space.” He defines it better than I can. Reality is ready to crumble in Lovecraft’s tales (either through an internal or external source) and that’s pretty freaky—more freaky than being turned into a werewolf or a vampire. At least I always thought that Kafka having that poor dude transform into an insect was more horrific than any blood-sucker. By the way, I think Lovecraft would have loved to play games like Silent Hill. (RIGHT: H.P. Lovecraft, circa 1934)
Paula R. Stiles: Silvia did the design and layout work, so you have to give her credit for that. My biggest job, aside from selection and major editing choices, is the copy editing. I do the basement work you don’t see, but would notice if it were off.
Paula: Silvia and I first went through the slush and chose jointly between “nos” and “maybes”. We both had to agree to keep something over. We then went over the maybes separately and came out with a bunch we both agreed on. There were still too many, so we made a final decision to whittle them down to a final TOC, aiming for a maximum geographical and historical distribution, as well as trying to keep a balance between male and female authors, and authors from different countries. We also looked for submissions with GLBT protagonists.
Elaine: Why do you care so much about Lovecraft and why is he still such a huge influence today?
Paula: I’m an old-school HPL fan. I got into his stuff by reading the cheap anthologies with the lurid covers that came out in the 70s and 80s. He combined two of my favourite genres—horror and science fiction. Lovecraft had a very dark and creepy view of the universe, but it was also a very old and very BIG universe. A fun place to visit. I think he’s popular today for two reasons—first, his hospitality. He was very sharing of his time and writing, befriending and mentoring many writers. Though his life was relatively short, his legacy was exceedingly long-lived and his friends promoted his work long after his death.
Second, the RPG [role-playing game] craze brought him out of the genre ghetto and into mainstream popularity. It wasn’t that big of a leap from Dungeons&Dragons to the ancient cults and cosmic horror of Call of Cthulhu. Gamers are an enthusiastic fandom and they overlap with speculative fiction and comics authors and fans. Not to mention, the sheer complexity and scope of the Mythos universe lent themselves to the expansive storytelling needs of role-playing games.
Elaine: Historical Lovecraft is available in print ($14.99) and as an e-book ($3.99) through innsmouthfreepress.com, Amazon.com, and Barnes&Noble. And now a word with one of the cover-authors of Historical Lovecraft:
“The air in the cell almost sent me to my knees. The decaying straw and the smell of human excrement were only the beginning. All of the world’s corruption seemed concentrated here.” –“City of Ropes,” by Albert Tucher
Elaine: Hi Albert, how did you hear about Innsmouth Free Press and that they were open for submissions?
Albert Tucher: From Sandra Seamans website—one of her market roundups.
Elaine: “City of Ropes” is set in tenth century Rome, a seedy period of decline that has very little written history. How did it come about?
Albert: Around 1980 I was working at the East Orange Public Library next door to Newark. I was browsing the shelves for reading matter, when my eye fell on a book called The Tenth Century, by Eleanor Duckett. I opened the book and got hooked on the delicious sordidness of the period. There was no pretense and no subtlety about the power struggles of the time.
Elaine: Can you set the stage for us? This was after the fall of the Roman empire, correct?
Albert: Yes, and very little was written down about this period. Several centuries after the formal fall of the western Roman empire, the city’s population had declined to a level that could be sustained by farming within the walls. Historians estimate that only twenty thousand people lurked among the ruins of a city that had once accommodated a six-figure population.
It’s difficult to overstate the obscurity of this period. A handful of sources report the doings of the rulers of the period, but there is practically no literary evidence on daily life. Archaeology may help, but even there, the tenth century left a very light footprint on the ground. Often the best [a writer] can do is look at how things were in the late Roman empire and early medieval period and then in the late middle ages and guess at what intervened.
Elaine: Lovecraft often uses a theme of decay. How did tenth- century Rome seem the perfect setting?
Albert: By 935 AD, which is the approximate year of my story, slavery was a living institution. Marozia and her class probably owned Arab slaves descended from war captives. Dwellings were built from materials scavenged from ancient buildings. Food was grown inside the city walls. There was plenty of room, with twenty thousand or so people living where a half million had once crowded into multistory tenements, but public health was nonexistent. The aquaducts had probably deteriorated too much to function, and the sewer system certainly had. The swamps by the Tiber were malarial in the extreme.
Elaine: It sounds bleak and futuristic, except it’s ancient history. How about a short synopsis of “The City of Ropes.”
Albert: The murderous intrigues of tenth-century Rome appear to have ended with the death of the Senatrix Marozia. But when her son Prince Alberic puts her on posthumous trial, his plans go terribly wrong. Instead of burying her reputation with her body, he incites her to continue their feud from beyond the grave. The anonymous narrator and the city itself will pay the price.