Wednesday, June 27, 2012


The book that would not die lives!  Long last, The Call of Lovecraft is available in both e- and print formats. It's been a circuitous route -- TCoL was staked, eulogized, and nearly forgotten...until the fine folk at Evil Jester Press asked me to take the reigns of a personal project, anything I wanted within reason, and I exhumed the collection from the dead.  I was one of the first authors accepted when TCoL was envisioned by another editor, a different press.  I brought back our celebrated cover artist, Billy Tackett, the uber-awesome Ramsey Campbell, and 99.9% of the original Table of Contents from Year:2010, which includes so many talented authors.  I even bulked up the page count by adding six hand-chosen authors whose work routinely ranks among my favorite.

Like TCoL, my original short story offering, "The Green Dream," experienced a whirlwind journey en route to publication -- it was accepted in June 2010 for this collection, which then folded when the book company dissolved; was accepted for another to be published by The Twisted Library, which was also cancelled in October 2011.  By that point, I had written "The Mercy of Madness" to replace it within TCoL.  "The Green Dream" found a home in my enormous collection of original short and long stories, The Fierce and Unforgiving Muse: Twenty-Six Tales from the Terrifying Mind of Gregory L. Norris (EJP).  "Mercy" is an updated, rewritten version based upon the most horrific dream of my life, which involved a forced march to an abandoned factory deep in the woods during an icy rainstorm.  The original story was read during the early days of my first writer's group, late 1993. During that same time, Scott Goudsward read his Lovecraftian tale "That Place" to an audience looking over its shoulder while navigating the brooding autumn darkness on the way to their vehicles post-meeting.  That both stories are contained within the covers of TCoL seems not only fitting to me, but supremely cool.

It was my pleasure to ask my fellow contributors to share a bit of back-story behind their stories in The Call of Lovecraft.

Ramsey Campbell on "Cold Print": "My short story 'Cold Print' began life as 'The Successor'. It was one product of my struggle to sound like myself. I wrote a bunch of these after delivering The Inhabitant of the Lake and 'The Stone on the Island' to August Derleth in March 1963. A couple saw limited circulation, but nearly all of them were rewritten from scratch to their considerable benefit. I mentioned having finished 'The Successor' to Derleth in June 1964, but subsequently did nothing with it until he asked me (in late1967, I think it would have been) to come up with a new Lovecraftian tale for his next anthology. If I looked at 'The Successor', I imagine it was askance.

Parts of it do survive in 'Cold Print': many of the urban descriptions, and except for changing 'moist' to 'wet', the final image. The main changes were to the characters. The protagonist Derek Sheridan collects banned books, and that’s pretty well all the reader learns about him, because I’d simply put myself into the story. Sheridan meets his unnamed contact at a film society based on the Merseyside Film Institute and has to suffer the other’s enthusiasm for bad thirties Hollywood movies. In those days I was given to inserting observations into the story whether or not they were relevant to the theme. I needed Sam Strutt to let the telling become more controlled, and I borrowed details of him from a gym master at my old school and a colleague in the Civil Service who would ask me to lend him exciting books. 'The Successor' will be included as an extra in the forthcoming follow-up from PS Publishing to their definitive edition of The Inhabitant of the Lake – the second volume will collect the rest of my Lovecraftian short stories. Meanwhile, here’s 'Cold Print', risen from the dust." 

Scott T. Goudsward on "That Place": "The original version of 'That Place' was written way back circa 1993/1994 and, after several failed attempts at placing it, the story was re-written and re-named.  It was one fated night at my writer's group that Gregory Norris heard it, and it stuck in his craw as did the story he was reading at the same time.  Through the years, I'd re-written it a few times to try to make it 'fit' and always thought it was going to end up a trunk story until the invite went out for The Call of Lovecraft.

What made the story what it is, the thing was based on a gaming session of the RPG The Call of Cthulhu from Chaosium.  My brother was running it and I can't tell you who else was at the table.  The undead ghoul rats (as I call them) from the session ended up being the creatures beneath the grates in the story.  The tunnels as well as some of the characters are long imagined speculation between friends and I..."

William Meikle on "The Colour of the Deep": "I don't like caves; dark passageways filled with creeping shadows, slimy moss and big beasties just waiting to jump. It's something that's been with me since my childhood when three of us ventured into one and, as a joke, I was left alone in the dark. That experience led directly to my story 'The Colour of the Deep.'  My friends came back for me, and we're still friends to this day, so the story isn't autobiographical beyond the first couple of paragraphs. But I really don't like caves."

Carol MacAllister on "Blood Pine": "In some pagan beliefs, the pine tree is considered to be 'alive.'  If you touch one you just might feel the pulsing life within it, particularly, if you are within a remote stand. Kirlian photography shows plants that have been trimmed back or cut still hold phantom energy shapes of lost limbs. Sick plants are said to be helped if surrounded by well ones – a communication of sorts takes place and many sick plants recover. So, if vegetation does have a unique mind of its own what would happen if human blood got into the mix?   I saw this when traveling through Kentucky years ago where wide open spans of Civil War battlefields lay before me, dotted with tall dark spruce. How interesting, I thought, they scattered the landscape like they’d sprouted from the dead who had lain there after the battles. And with a little tap on the shoulder from Lovecraft and fostering from otherworldliness, a stand of pine, as in 'Blood Pine,' might easily mutate and interact with humans, perhaps like Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows."

John F. D. Taff on "The Tentacle": "'The Tentacle' began life when my friend, J. Travis Grundon, wanted a story for a Lovecraft anthology he was putting together—which ultimately became Gregory’s The Call of Lovecraft. Now, I’ve read Lovecraft and enjoyed some of his stories, but he’s not exactly my cup of tea.  I think this is because his writing style has been pastiched to death, like Chandler.   And because his style has a kind of humorless aridness to it that’s a bit too pompous for my taste.  Probably shouldn’t be knocking Lovecraft in an anthology dedicated to him, but there are some pieces by good ole H.P. that I do like.  At the Mountains of Madness is a particularly effective story.  Anyway, what I wanted to do with 'The Tentacle' was pastiche the old guy and add a little humor to the mix.  The result is a story that has a lot of Lovecraftian elements in it, plus (hopefully) the humor I was aiming for; but also, at the end, a poignant and cosmic twist that lends a more serious air to the story’s conclusion.

Roxanne Dent on "Magnus the Magnificent": "As a lover of the sea and paranormal magicians who do more than parlor tricks, I was intrigued by the combination. When I lived in New York I taught remedial reading to prisoners in a prison and later joined an organization that helped them to adjust to life on the outside.  One thing I discovered was that it was extremely rare for an ex-prisoner to remain out of jail.  There were many reasons for this, including family dynamics, drugs and poverty, but one thing stood out.  It had a lot to do with 'hubris,' or pride that made him overestimate his criminal creativity, causing him to think he could execute the big score and get away with it.  I used all of these elements in my story, 'Magnus the Magnificent.'"

Geoffrey James on "The Vessel": "My exposure to Lovecraft goes back to the 1960s when I discovered a box of Weird Tales magazines in a drawer at my grandmother's house.  Later, my father (who'd collected the volumes) gave me a copy of Lovecraft's Best Supernatural Stories, which at the time contained his membership card in the "Weird Tales Club," which, alas, is now lost, although I still do have the book. When Gregory asked me to write a story for this volume, I turned to 'The Dunwich Horror' because, before my father died, he and I drove into central Massachusetts and, based upon internal references in Lovecraft story, discovered that Dunwich was, in fact, the town of Shutesbury.  Sentinel Hill is still there (there's a retreat center atop it!) as are numerous (apparently) pre-Columbian stone ruins. In my view, the most original aspect of Lovecraft's writing is his rejection of the dichotomy between good and evil. All horror written before Lovecraft assumes a world where Good and Evil are in equilibrium, with Evil able to (temporarily) overcome Good, but where Good will eventually triumph. As such, horror existed in an essentially Christian context.

Lovecraft completely scraps that dialectic. Lovecraft separates religion into two general categories: traditional religions which are based upon human imagination and therefore impotent and (for want of a better term) eldritch religions, which are based on actual (albeit alternate) reality and therefore powerful. Put another way, trying to scare away Cthulhu with a crucifix will get your crushed or eaten. As such, in Lovecraft's world, it makes a certain amount of sense for those who are religiously minded to worship the elder gods, since they 1) actually exist and 2) actually have an impact on the mortal world. Unfortunately, Lovecraft never pursues this angle, instead attributing such worship to either cultural or racial degeneracy or a combination of both. In other words, to Lovecraft, those who worship the Elder Gods are simply sub-human.

When writing 'The Vessel' I decided instead to take my cue from my father's observations and treat such worship not as a manifestation of inferiority, but rather an understandable reaction to the intrusion of an alternate reality into the mortal world. While Lavinia's family background and albinism have certainly influenced her life, what's far more important to her is an ecstatic religious experience that makes her feel cherished in a way that she'd been unable to experience before. In doing so, I tried to raise her from the subhuman caricature that she is in the original story into more of a human being, with understandable motivations and desires.

H. David Blalock on "The Shed": "As a long-time Lovecraft fan, I often find interesting ideas surrounding ordinary objects, usually at the most unexpected times. In the case of The Shed’, I was mowing my lawn when I noticed the door to the shed in my yard was slightly ajar and didn't remember leaving it open. One thing led to another, and soon that shed had become something much more sinister than a simple wood and metal structure. The story, once the idea was developed, took just a short time to write. I was delighted to find that it met the requirements of TCoL."

Karen Dent on "Endless Hunger": "As a child, I loved the old movie The Crawling Eye The mists, the mountain, the psychic woman connected to the monster are all rolled up with my first introduction to Lovecraft.  I’d always wanted to create a story that would affect others as those images had me.  I hadn’t read any of Lovecraft’s works in years so I downloaded every story I could -- and scared the crap out of myself all over again.  He was a painter of words, teleporting you from a soft, cushy couch to getting dragged into the deep recesses of an agonizing forever. 
The idea of endless suffering, the inability to escape and the slow torture of continued cognitive thought horrifies me.  I hope you like ‘Endless Hunger’ -- however I think placing it in New Hampshire, at Lake Winnipesaukee might have been a mistake.  I no longer feel safe walking the black road alone in the dark of night, especially when I pass the D.H. [Divided Highway]."

John B. Rosenman on "I Luv RT": "Sometimes stories come from nowhere, an empty void.  Or a faint wind on your face.  Or from a word, a book cover, a sublimely beautiful sunrise—or sunset. In the case of ‘I LUV RT,’ the kick-starter was very definite.  I was driving down the street, minding my own darn business, when a pretty girl cut in front of me, giving me the finger as she sped on.  I recall that her license plate contained the letters ‘RT.’

I sped up, ran the girl off the road, and killed her.

No, I didn’t.  I was pissed for a few seconds and then forgot it.  Or rather, I went home and wrote a story called ‘I LUV RT,’ which is about a nerdy loser with self-esteem issues who has a young girl cut in front of him on the road . . .

Well, you get the idea.  And I swear on my psychiatrist’s couch the character in the story has nothing in common with me.  Honest!  I’m absolutely comfortable with my rugged masculinity.

At the time I wrote the story, I was reading the works of H.P. Lovecraft.  At the Mountains of Madness, “The Colour Out of Space,” “The Rats in the Walls,” and so on.  What impressed me the most was the creepy, Medusa-like nature of supernatural horror.  Imagine the sinister and seductive possibilities of ultimate evil! There are not only cosmic forces that don’t care a rat’s ass about us, but to most of us, they are ineffable, indescribable, and unimaginable. You not only can’t capture their good side in a photograph, they don’t have a good side.  And if your mind is strong and resilient enough to view them directly for a whole second, in the next second, it will probably snap like a dry pretzel and crumble completely.  Unless you are one of the few who find them beautiful.

Look out!  These banished Old Ones want to return and take over Main Street again.  Are you going to stand in their way?

So an impatient female driver and Lovecraft’s view of supernatural evil and horror were two main influences on the story.  I’ll mention one more: the possibility that we’re ultimately all alone and don’t even begin to understand each other as well as we think.  In my case, was that female driver really disgusted with my slow driving, or was there another reason she cast driver etiquette to the winds and blew me off?  I hope you read my story and find out, then realize it’s unwise to make assumptions about anybody.  Who knows?  Even your sweet old granny may have a body or two stashed in the cellar.

There’s a lot more I could tell you about ‘I LUV RT,’ but then I’d spoil the surprise. So—enough said!"

James Ravan on "The Winds of Gobekli Tepe": "I prefer fiction that is rooted in truth and 'The Winds of Gobekli Tepe' is such a story. The setting, a hilltop expanse called Gobekli Tepe, does exist and is a thriving archaeological site today. What happened there? Why was the site buried? Who buried it? What rituals were performed by these prehistoric peoples millennia before writing was invented? To what Gods? And to what intent? Gregor Engel, a field archaeologist, his wife Ingrid, Aya and her mother Kek, explore these questions."

Jacqueline Seewald on "Legend": "As the educational media specialist/librarian for a large regional high school in Central New Jersey, I did all the book ordering. High school students love horror fiction. So it's important to provide a quality collection. One of the books I ordered was Tales of H.P. Lovecraft, ten stories by the master edited and introduced by Joyce Carol Oates. As I examined the book, making certain it was appropriately cataloged, I became intrigued. I knew I wanted to be the first to read this particular volume. So I checked it out and took it home with me that day. Oates, a prolific mainstream literary author, wrote what I consider to be a brilliant essay on Lovecraft. After reading that as well as the short stories in the collection, I was inspired to write my own short story, a tribute to the father of modern horror fiction. I hope readers will enjoy ‘Legend.’"

Derek Neville on "The Clearing": "The original germ for the idea for 'The Clearing' actually started in a dream I had. The fragments I remember from it were that I had a bird's eye view of a man wandering into, of all things, a clearing and finding an abandoned train there. It should be noted, I have very odd dreams pretty much every night, but regardless it was a visual that stuck in my head. With most of my story ideas I tend to latch onto a moment that just gives me a feeling in my gut, something that no matter how many times I think about it, I get that same excitement to start filling in all the blanks. I have a lot of ideas, as I'm sure most of my fellow writers do, and a lot of them exist in this form of smalls scenes and moments, just waiting for their time in the sun to be fully explored. When Greg first approached me about contributing to The Call of Lovecraft it was like he opened up a door and gave me carte blanche to figure out why this man and this train were in a clearing to begin with. It was a chance to play in a sandbox I'm most comfortable in. 

For me, 'The Clearing' was about exploring a lot of different themes, and I won't explain them all here as the reader's interpretation of the story is far greater than my intention. I'll tell you that one of the bigger ideas that the story is picking at is the eternal battle between free will versus fate. If you knew that someone was pulling the strings would that impact the choices that you made? Also, I've always been a big fan of ensemble pieces and there's nothing more fun for me as a reader and as a writer than to watch a group of people who hate each other have to band together to survive. I hope 'The Clearing' makes the reader ask a lot of questions. I'm sorry to report that the answer's are not all there on the page, but I think I gave you enough to draw your own conclusions on what things meant. The story is very similar in that way. It asks questions, big questions, like are we ultimately judged for the wrong we do? I'll be honest with you, I had a blast writing this story and I hope that enthusiasm comes through on the page." 

and artist Billy Tackett on his beautiful cover: "I've always been a Lovecraft fan and doing this cover was a treat. For some reason I had never considered doing any Lovecraftian pictures but while doing the research for The Call of Lovecraft I was bitten by the bug! I'm currently working on a series of pictures featuring the indescribable horrors featured in Lovecraft's works."

No comments:

Post a Comment