I would like to encourage Plutonian readers to go out and see The Witch while it is still in theaters. It is a gorgeous gothic film filled to the brim with atmosphere and dread. While watching it I thought.. it’s like if Kubrick had directed a remake of Haxan. I think it stands as a 21st-century masterpiece.. along with Anti-Christ, Inland Empire, and Under the Skin. As someone who wishes that there was more to life than crazy relatives, soul crushing everyday labor, and loneliness… this film really spoke to me. I wish that there were dark powers and temptations. The Witch is the blackest of invocations, a hymn for those who follow the left hand path. I left the theatre in a state of awe.. and that ending will stay with me for my entire life. Go see it.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Today we have a very special guest on The Plutonian… Livia Llewellyn! Livia is the author of two collections: Engines of Desire, and her just released new collection Furnace. Livia is a poet of bruised flesh, of transformations both dreaded and desired, of dark awakenings and blinding truths. Livia is a true trailblazer and on my list of must read authors. I love her writing, combining exquisite prose with a darkly sensuous viewpoint. It is a true honor having Livia on here to answer a few questions. I eagerly encourage my readers to check out Furnace, a review will be appearing here in the next couple weeks.
The Plutonian: What book/story/film inspired you to want to be a part of the weird horror genre? What horror writers did you look up to and maybe aspire to produce work at a equal level to in your early days of being a horror fiction fan?
Livia: I’ve been a horror fan ever since I was a toddler (I have the pictures of me dancing with skeletons to prove it), and so there are so many influences in my life, it’d be ridiculous to name them all. When I started writing seriously in 2003-2004, I considered myself a fantasy writer. I joined SFWA, I signed up for Clarion, I was very focused on fantasy, albeit dark fantasy. On the second day of Clarion, they were passing out free back issues of F&SF Magazine, and I nabbed a copy that had Laird Barron’s novella “The Imago Sequence” in it. I read it that evening, and before I was even a couple of paragraphs in, I knew that that was the kind of fiction I wanted to write. And just like that I was a horror writer.
The Plutonian: Do you feel that sexuality and horror are specifically interconnected and/or are you more responding to a lack of sexuality in horror?
Livia: Horror is by its nature transgressive, and so is erotica – it’s also a liminal form of art and state of being. Horror and erotica occupy the same dark edges of human existence. We (the majority of us) shove them both to the sides of daily routine, we confine them to moments of darkness or weakness or both. We tell ourselves that horror and erotica is unnatural, immoral, and shouldn’t be a part of the “normal” human experience. And yet we oscillate within horror and erotic states of being for so much of our lives that they define us as much as, if not more than, any other states of being, even through their suppression or absence. I combine them because they’re already combined. Like love and hate, and life and death, they’re not opposites but the same side of the coin, the opposite side being the unknowable void – I just happen to point this out in my fiction. And I think many horror writers do that as well, and are celebrated for it – Clive Barker and Anne Rice being the biggest names of course, but there are many others out there.
The Plutonian: Horror fans tend to always be seeking weird and obscure works. Have there been any obscure horror books or films you have discovered recently you would like to talk about?
Livia: I know there’s been a lot of buzz about E. Elias Merhige’s 1990 movie “Begotten”, which has been sort of rediscovered in the past couple of months. I watched it a few weeks ago, and it’s unbelievably disturbing – it was very difficult for me to sit through it, I had to keep stopping the movie (it’s currently on YouTube) and walk away from the computer. As far as fiction goes, I’ve been reading hundreds of things for the Shirley Jackson Awards for 2015, so I’m not going to talk about what I’ve found among the submissions that really grabbed me – I think it’s only fair to wait until after the nomination process is over before I name names.
The Plutonian: I would say that out of any current writer working, I find you the only one capable of truly shocking me as a reader… there are moments in "Horses" and "Omphalos" that are shocking and disturbing in a very primal way. Is it important for you to be able to disturb a reader and why is it important?
Livia: I don’t try to write anything with the intent to disturb – the images that I write are fascinating to me, and I think part of my writing them down is to try to discover why those images and themes are so attractive to me. I don’t have an answer, by the way – I don’t know why I write what I write, and perhaps that’s for the best. If I ever found out, I might no longer feel the need to write, and for the time being, I don’t want that to happen.
The Plutonian: Have you any favorite dark and erotic fictions? Do you ever read some de Sade or The Story of O under candlelight?
Livia: Well, I don’t read by candlelight, as I basically live in a tinderbox. Also, unless you have a lamp, it’s almost impossible to direct candlelight onto the page – believe me, I’ve tried, and I almost burned my face off. Anyway! I haven’t read any erotic fiction lately – I just don’t have the time. My favorite erotica writer is Anaïs Nin, and as far as contemporary writers go, Jacqueline Carey is probably my favorite – her fantasy novels are very erotic, very dark. But most of what I’ve read over the years was written during the late 1800’s to mid 1900’s – mostly erotica, but a lot of it fiction that isn’t always explicit but is extremely dark, atmospheric, and sexually charged. I’m not a big believer in the “kill your darlings” rule, and the writers I like the most are the ones who didn’t throw away their most beautiful sentences, but kept them and accommodated their presence.
The Plutonian: When you write what is the primary goal for your fiction? An enjoyable read? A political message? Some creepy atmosphere?
Livia: I have absolutely no goals when I write, except to finish whatever I’m writing. I know a lot of readers have picked out feminist themes and characters in my work, or Lovecraftian philosophies (whatever those are), but I honestly don’t have anything like that in mind when I’m writing. Creepy atmosphere is important for some of my stories more than others, but mainly I just want the plot to make some kind of sense, and for the ending not to fall apart, and to not blow past the deadline too much. My editors will confirm, however, that I fail that last one all the time…
The Plutonian: What is your perfect late night double feature horror film viewing?
Livia: I don’t like watching horror movies late at night, because I’m a total chicken-shit who will sleep with the lights on and a fork in my hand afterwards. Seriously, I can’t watch horror once the sun goes down (unless it’s something stupid and campy, like American Horror Story). But I tend to watch movies that have similar themes and styles, so my double features would be along the lines of watching “The Thing” along with “The Last Winter”, or “Here Comes the Devil” along with “We Are What We Are”, or “The Others” along with “Crimson Peak”.
The Plutonian: A lot of your work seems to deal with trauma and change. Do you think change is positive or a thing to be feared… or both?
Livia: Both. I mean, it’s great to be alive, but I really hate the fact that I’m getting older and my body is starting to fall apart and someday I’m going to die. I love discovering new things and exploring new places, but I mourn the loss of restaurants and stores that no longer exist, wild landscapes that have been irrevocably changed through urban sprawl, and I fear – I know – that the things I currently love will someday suffer the same fate. But that’s just the human condition. We want change and we want things to be the same, and we put ourselves through a kind of life-long exquisite torture wanting both and rejecting each for the other and never quite finding the balance we seek – hence the trauma, I think. I know my stories address that to horrific extremes, but it’s a condition, a physical and emotional journey that even in the most fantastical and grotesque circumstances I put my protagonists through, readers can understand and even empathize with. Because it’s a very human journey, as common to each of us as breathing.
The Plutonian: Do you believe there is an ultimate meaning to life? Or do you think that life is basically unknowable?
Livia: Life is unknowable, and so is death. Everything we do and create is, I think, an attempt (consciously and subconsciously) to ascribe meaning to it. Some people feel they have the answers, others don’t. I’m still at the “I don’t know” stage.
The Plutonian: When you write, do you write for an audience or do you write for yourself and hope others like it?
Livia: I do write for myself, but I also do think of my readers, because after ten years of publication and two collections out, I know I have readers and I can’t pretend that no one knows who I am or that no one’s going to read what I write. And I’m fairly confident that the reason people like my fiction is because of what I write about and the way I write it, so I don’t sit at the computer and worry that if I have protagonist X open door A instead of B, readers will freak out and throw the book across the room – I’m also my audience, and if I like what I write, then others will like it. Hopefully, that is.
The Plutonian: And finally do you have any new works or any new projects you would like to talk about after Furnace?
Livia: I’m working on a few stories for anthologies, I’m halfway through writing stories (which I’m posting on Patreon) for an erotica collection titled Tales of the Black Century, and after that I’m finishing up my novel.
Monday, January 18, 2016
Now that 2015 is in the rear view mirror now it’s time to look back at the best films and books of the year. This is the first of a yearly Plutonian best of edition. It has been an interesting year in Weird Horror. Some amazing films have brought back intelligence and ideas over gore and jump scares. And in the Weird Horror fiction scene there has been an explosion in the micro presses, a lot of wonderful work has been coming out showcasing a lot of new talents. But on the other hand that same explosion has resulted in a lot of over hyped and mediocre work being released over flooding the market. Also a lot of the groundbreaking writers from ten years ago have seemed to either have left the Weird Horror genre or have lost the fire and are releasing some uninspired work these days. So overall it’s an interesting time in the Weird Horror scene, a sort of changing of the guard from the old to the new. There are some amazing new books coming out in 2016. Matthew Bartlett’s Creeping Waves, Livia Llewellyn’s Furnaces, Scott Jones's anthology Cthulhusattva, Joe Pulver should be coming out with a couple anthologies, and Christopher Slatsky has a as of yet untitled collection coming out. I definitely recommend that Weird Horror fans look out for those. So anyway on with the best of's!
Best film of 2015: Ex Machina.
Ex Machina to me was the best film of 2015. Oscar Issac deserves an award for his performance here as the guy who finally breaks the secret of developing artificial intelligence. Great acting, beautiful camerawork, amazing soundtrack, and a lot to think about after the credits roll. It has a lot to say about artificial intelligence and what it means to be human. Self survival, social climbing, using desire as a weapon, all explored in this insightful film. I love the misdirection the film uses to keep you off guard. It starts off as a kind of a cliche film about an innocent who arrives at a castle/mansion of a mad scientist who is eager to show off his experiments, only to have your expectations used against you. Ex Machina is in the linage of the more serious 1970’s sci-fi films like Parts: The Clonus Horror or Demon Seed. A rare sci-fi film that is more about ideas than action sequences. A must see.
Second best film of 2015: It Follows.
It Follows really caught me off guard. A “slasher” film about sexual politics and sexual guilt? Paying homage to the traditions while at the same time subverting them? I was blown away that a “slasher” could still feel fresh and cutting edge. This film shares a kind of autumnal feel similar to Halloween, and it’s soundtrack is as effective as Halloween’s to evoking a sense of dread. Halloween’s theme of a silent killer lurking and stalking you, especially if you are promiscuous, is treated subliminally in that film, where as in It Follows it is examined and brought front and center. The acting was superb in this, the main actress, Maika Monroe, was brilliant in a role most others would over act in. She has a bizarre curse laid on her from a man who seduces her, giving her the curse to rid himself of it, since it spreads like a STD from victim to victim. And the curse is this thing which can change into looking like anybody, which stalks her day and night till it can kill her and move on to killing the person who spread it to her, and on and on, like an evil chain letter. I love how the curse can be spread by people with the best of intentions or innocently, but either way lethal. She tries to get rid of the curse herself but there is no answer to it. But there is a line of boys who would love to try to help her by hooking up with her…. Highly recommended.
Best book of 2015: Alectryomancer and other Weird Tales.
Christopher Slatsky’s Alectryomancer and other Weird Tales was the best debut since Golaski’s Worse Than Myself, Nicolay’s Ana Kai Tangata, Bartlett’s Gateway’s to Abomination, and Llewellyn’s Engines of Desire. He writes a kind of sci-fi that is both speculative and darkly surreal. Slatsky’s predecessors seem to be more Ellison and Sturgeon than Poe and Lovecraft. He is more intent on attacking you with a constantly shifting reality exposing the cracks in your perception of normality then in writing the more traditional tale of terror. In his fiction you have no idea where he is going and you can be assured that you are about to get your mind blown. Read his work before all your friends have and you are the last one to know.
Second best book of 2015: Beneath an Oil-Dark Sea: The Best of Caitlin R. Kiernan ( Volume Two ).
Under an Oil Dark Sea is book two of the Caitlin Kiernan best of collection. Showcasing the current era of her writing, it’s a dark gem of a book. Kiernan may be the greatest writer working today in the Weird Horror genre. Poetic, melancholy, perverse, Neil Gaiman said of Keirnan that, “ Kiernan is the poet and the bard of the wasted and the lost.” so if you, like me, prefer prose that is both bleak and beautiful, I urge you to seek out her work. Masterpiece after masterpiece, with maybe only two or three stories I found to be not to my taste. I give this book my highest recommendation.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
There seems to be a resurgence in the Sci-Fi film genre going on. I recently saw a great film that blew my mind called Upstream Color. Upstream Color is a vanguard film in the pseudo New Weird Sci-Fi scene along with Under the Skin, Enemy, Berberian Sound Studio, and Beyond the Black Rainbow. These sci-fi films follow a very abstract aesthetic and are more concerned with the inhuman, the alien, and the other than with the human. These films tend to leave a lot of viewers confused and disturbed. And they are meant to be, New Weird Sci-Fi is an attack on your preconceptions of reality and the body, buts its also an investigation into unknown waters, ideas being torn apart and reexamined. It is a welcome return to a kind of Ballardian soft Sci-Fi, more concerned with identity and biology then with space operas and computers. Upstream Color is a drama of parasites and mind controlled hosts. While it kind of drifts in time and space, I would not say this is a dream film, it’s more of a drug induced fugue. It has a kind of bleached out medicinal haze to it. There are characters in this film.. but they serve more as host organisms then as real relatable people. All these different characters make up the reproductive cycle of the parasitic worm. A man referred to as the Thief collects the worms and forces them into people either by trickery or force. The worm has a hypnotic effect on its host which also makes them extremely susceptible to influence. Then the Thief takes advantage of this by robbing his victims of every last dollar they have. Then a man referred to as the Sampler draws the worms host to him and surgically removes the worm from the host's body and places it into one of his pigs at his pig farm. At that point the former host and the new pig host share a psychic connection. The former host also is now plagued with hallucinations and a feeling of alienation from reality. The story follows one woman as she goes through this process and tries to figure out what happened to her. But it's a discovery that can never happen, she is so irrevocably altered by these events that there is no going back to normalcy, she is both damaged and saved, and she finds her own kind of happy ending within the films reality. Reading this description I would imagine that the film sounds extremely ambiguous and surreal. It is. And it's also one of the best films of the 21 century. Highly recommended for adventurous film goers.
Saturday, November 28, 2015
“I would propose that horror not be understood as dealing with human fear in a human world ( the world-for-us ), but that horror be understood as being about the limits of the human as it confronts a world that is not just a World, not just a Earth, but also a Planet ( the world-without-us). This also means that horror is not simply about fear, but instead about the enigmatic thought of the unknown.”
There is a very interesting strain of philosophy emerging in the last couple years. A philosophy of pessimism that uses weird horror as a springboard to explore the ever more chaotic and strange world we live in. At the forefront of this movement is Eugene Thacker author and teacher at The New School in New York. He has published a trilogy of books that are must owns to anyone interested in this field. His Horror of Philosophy trilogy seeks to show that Weird Horror and pessimistic philosophy have similar goals. To travel to the limit of thought and show the truths that can not be dealt with. To talk of the paradoxical and the hidden. The books themselves are wondrously entertaining. Thacker is a gifted writer and can hit you with some poetic yet tenebrous prose. His writing takes the form of short essays and aphorisms tackling a wide assortment of topics, such as religious mysticisms views on darkness, the symbolism of tentacles, the use of ghostly hair in horror films, or the negation of music in the Japanese noise genre. The trilogy almost serves as a encyclopedia of weird horror concepts.
The first book, In The Dust Of This Planet, is kind of an overview of pessimism. Some really interesting chapters on Black Metal, inhuman beings in horror, and ecological horror. The second book, Starry Speculative Corpse, looks at works of philosophy as if they were works of horror fiction, mainly focusing on Descarte, Nietzsche, Kant and Bataille. Here he talks of the demon that haunts philosophy, that the very act of thinking can be an illusion and our senses can not be trusted. The third book, Tentacles Longer Than Night, focuses on work of horror as if they were works of philosophy, he discusses the works of Dante, Lautreamont, Lovecraft and Ligotti. There is excellent studies in this book of The Songs of Maldoror, and the abstract horror film. In all three books there is a struggle to come to terms with the not human, the alien. In these studies of the alien we find that we are, in fact, the aliens, unknowable to ourselves and each other.
“...what genre horror does do is it takes aim at the presuppositions of philosophical inquiry - that the world is always for us - and makes of these blind spots its central concern, expressing them not in abstract concepts but in a whole bestiary of impossible life forms = mists, ooze, blobs, slime, clouds and muck.”
I think what makes Pessimistic Philosophy different from Weird Horror is the approach and the end goal. Pessimistic Philosophy is the cold stare into the void. It uses a scientific method to study this void and attempts to capture it in a formula in book form. It seems to me that Weird Horror is a mostly erotic enterprise that finds an almost orgasmic sensation in plunging into the darkest mysteries and bleak reality of existence. Its mission is to make a kind of poetry of the dark abyss we are all lost in. Which differentiates it from mainstream horror, whose purpose is to provide cheap jump scares and easy gore shocks to give you a roller coaster fun ride, but utterly empty of meaning or beauty. It’s something that unites many different writers into the weird horror lineage, Poe, Baudelaire, Lovecraft, Kafka, Borges, Bradbury, Kiernan, Ligotti, these hymns to the void, making the bleak, beautiful. And this is where Thacker is so brilliant, right in the middle of a essay he will all of a sudden out of nowhere bring you some of the most beautiful turns of phrase you have ever read. These books are essential to anyone interested in the darker roads of thought.
“And so the human being discovers , at last, that its existence has always been sustended by its non-existence, that it dies the moment it lives, and that, perhaps, we do nothing but carry around a corpse that carries around the sullen grey matter that occasionally wonders if the same sullen stars that occupy every firmament at every scale also occupy this starry speculative corpse.”
Saturday, November 21, 2015
Christopher Slatsky’s Alectryomancer just may be the best book of 2015. A collection of vertiginous weird horror that like a rotten onion, as you read each story, delving layer after layer, it keeps getting more mutated and more disease ridden. A recurring motif in Slatsky’s fiction is characters wakening from a nightmare just to find out they have no idea just how deep in the nightmare they actually are. Like Ellison and Ligotti, Slatsky seeks to upend your comfortable views and inject a seed, a seed that will grow in your mind and destabilize everything that you used to take for granted. You too… may be stuck in a nightmare. Alectryomancer isn’t a book, it’s a mind virus in book form.
Some of my favorite stories from this collection:
Corporautolysis: A man returning from bereavement leave to his office job finds that his life is still rotting away and that you can’t escape the sadness that haunts you. A corporate horror story that explores a man’s unconscious grief with creepy, surreal imagery and a pervading sense of loss.
This Fragmented Body: A puzzle box of a story. An apartment building seemingly full of amputees and the shadowy figure that controls their fate. A story that has both a fragile melancholy and some deeply sinister implications. Shades of Hans Bellmer’s broken dolls and Ligotti’s puppet masters. Full of dark mysteries, it will leave you thinking about this story long after you have put the book down for the night.
A Plague of Naked Movie Stars: A night of Halloween fun for some mischievous boys takes a sharp turn south when they witness the start of something beginning to invade our world. A mindbending dark scifi story with some very sharp irony, there is no hope of rescue and no escape. This one really unnerved me with some moments of pure dread.
Christopher was kind enough to talk with The Plutonian:
The Plutonian: Hello Christopher and welcome to The Plutonian!
Slatsky: Thank you for the invite Scott!
The Plutonian: I was quite blown away by your collection Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales. How does it feel having a collection out? How has working with the book's publisher Dunhams Manor Press been like?
Slatsky: You’re far too kind. I’m glad you enjoyed the book. It has been an interesting few months. I’m very fortunate to be working with Dunhams Manor Press. Jordan Krall is not only an exemplary publisher, but a fantastic writer as well. I didn’t intend to release a collection, so much of this has been a surprise as I was just submitting to an array of publishers to little avail when Jordan accepted four of my stories and released them as chapbooks. Shortly thereafter, he inquired as to whether I was interested in compiling my debut collection. I owe those who’ve published me an enormous amount of gratitude, but I’m particularly grateful to Jordan for his support, assistance, and everything he has done above and beyond any author’s expectations.
The Plutonian: I believe one of the things the horror genre does so well is to explore repressed fears and anxiety that we and our culture hold. To really dig into the deepest, most hidden parts of ourselves. What do you feel about weird horror as internal exploration?
Slatsky: The intent is to tell stories with a cosmic tint, while also describing the emotional turmoil and struggles on a temporal level. The cosmic is all well and good, but without some dirt beneath its fingernails and some scabs and bruises, the emphasis on infinite gulfs of time and space mean little. The universe’s dissolution by big freeze, crunch, bounce, or heat death isn’t particularly concerning to me if the petty, tragic, wonderful travails of humanity aren’t explored as well. Ants don’t quiver in awe at thunderstorms. Weird horror storytelling is my attempt to describe the ineffable. As a species we’re captivated by infinite expanses—it informs our concepts of an afterlife, religions, our gods, it invites fear and wonder. I suspect we truly are “intuitive theists”; that is, primates hardwired to interpret design in chaos, patterns in nothingness. A teleological interpretation of reality seems to be our default mode. Horror lit’ taps into this in that it fills me with a secular, pious awe that allows me to wonder if there’s something beyond the physical world, an order, or an ineffable truth that sets us to trembling. For better or worse, I’m just another non-theist dreaming about Otto’s interpretation of mysterium tremendum et fascinans. I write about beaten down travelers walking on bloody feet through this ugly, brutal life, who just happen to encounter paths that lead to transcendent realms.
The Plutonian: It seems weird horror is especially interested in the active perversion of what we call reality. In the taking the socially accepted worldviews of our existence and actively changing them to try to challenge the reader. Weird horror fiction could be said to be written primers in exposing the perverse nightmare of existence. Do you feel that weird horror is meant to challenge the status quo or maybe has a mission to show the world as a place bleaker than most are willing to accept? Or do you take a different viewpoint?
Slatsky: It’s fascinating to contemplate a what-if scenario where Descartes was onto something in asserting “… some malicious demon of the utmost power and cunning has employed all his energies in order to deceive me. I shall think that the sky, the air, the earth, colours, shapes, sounds and all external things are merely the delusions of dreams which he has devised to ensnare my judgment.” Weird horror allows me to explore how the world would operate if well known physical laws were merely one facet of how the universe works. What if the distortions and fractures in the engine perverts humanity’s attempts to analyze reality? What if all of our previous investigations of the cosmos are just slivers of what can be glimpsed through the keyhole? This questioning aspect is why I find horror so compelling—not just the bleak anti-natalism or pessimistic philosophies (though those are fascinating), but the terror, the passionate, religious response to the drama of finding an existence beyond this mundane life. A discovery that incites the same frisson of excitement I felt when breaking into a foreclosed house out in the middle of the woods when I was a kid, or on the other extreme, contemplating boundless alien terrain.
The Plutonian: There has been a lot of cross pollination with weird horror and philosophy lately, especially since the publication of Eugene Thacker’s In The Dust Of This Planet and Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against The Human Race. Do you think weird horror and philosophy are linked and what does the current trend of pessimistic philosophy say about the times we live in?
Slatsky: I do think they’re intimately linked. The weird intrigues in that while acknowledging the limitations of a physical universe that confirms entropy (all things dilapidate, non-existence is daunting for some reason), it does so while providing a religiously heightened, dare I say melodramatic, response at the acknowledgement the universe is an amoral, unthinking infinity of mechanistic operations. Humanity possesses nothing divine, no magical scroll under our tongues elevating us from shit to vessels for souls. We petulantly insist we’re at the pinnacle of biological processes—for the most part, the world’s religions also attest to humanity’s superiority; even the secular explanations for Homo sapiens evolution is couched in progressive terms. Theists have their faiths, while most non-theists turn to humanistic philosophies extolling the virtues of art and literature. We cling to the stubborn paradox that we’re better than all else despite the evidence confirming our irrelevancy on a cosmic scale. We’re just another species of primate that had the misfortune to evolve brains that made us think our ability to concoct gods and art somehow elevates us. Weird lit’ allows a vast freedom to explore ideas along these lines. Horror finds disillusionment and existential despair over the very same things the vast majority of faiths find fault with in philosophy and science. Both the believer and non-believer emphasize how the lack of a Creator means life has diminished worth if we’re just a glob of biotic molecules, alterations of alleles over time makes us programmed automatons, victims to a genetic play written 6 billion years ago. Those of faith add a soul, magic, and/or Creators to the mix to alleviate existential despair on contemplating the lack of anything beyond a corporeal existence. Those without faith point to neuroscience as all but abolishing dualism. The skeptic and believer lean towards the view that a random, unguided tick-tock universe is a soul(!)-shattering revelation. It’s this religiously heightened excitement that I find so compelling in weird fiction.
The Plutonian: I think one reason that the current era of weird horror fiction is different from other eras is because it’s being written by writers who grew up with late night horror movies on cable and spending days searching their local video store for strange films. What has been the influence of strange horror films on your work and on weird horror fiction in general?
Slatsky: That’s an interesting observation. I turned 10 in 1980 and I can attest to the glory of gas station VHS horror film box art and the alternative sections with films by the likes of John Waters, the Quay Brothers, and Jodorowsky which all felt dangerous, punk rock and subversive. There’s something to be said for the sheer thrill of coming across Lynch, Cronenberg, Fulci, or Henenlotter on the shelves of cluttered video stores. I’ve definitely consumed a vast quantity of the strangest, sleaziest, productions to ever appear on Betamax. I can’t deny the influence of comic books, pulp literature, and horror films on my writing. I think the DIY attitude and general sense of experimentation of these filmmakers feel like kindred spirits to weird horror authors. While not denying the potency of traditional horrors, there’s something liberating and compelling about exceeding the traditional and telling stories in the manner the storyteller intended, whether easily accessible or not. Transgressive filmmakers and authors have that in common.
The Plutonian: Was there a author or book that was a gateway to weird horror for you? What are some of your favorite weird horror stories?
Slatsky: John Bellairs.
Between the age of 7 and 10 I discovered noir, Westerns, comic books (not necessarily in that order), which collectively ruined any chance of my telling stories without any speculative component. But the first author to really lead me on that dark path was Bellairs. Over the years I drew inspiration from Cormac McCarthy, Chester Himes, Rikki Ducornet, Hubert Selby Jr., Charles Willeford, Tanith Lee, and Ervin Krause. And it’s the usual suspects when it comes to horror fiction: Lovecraft early on, then my love of Algernon Blackwood far surpassed anything Lovecraft ever managed. I read Mervyn Peake and Shirley Jackson around the time I stumbled across Ramsey Campbell, followed closely by Robert Aickman (if memory serves it was a collection of British ghost stories). Thomas Ligotti came along a bit later, but not so late he wasn’t an important influence. Drops in buckets there though.
If I were to free associate and name a small sampling of my favorite stories, some of which are not from my author influences, they’d include Aickman’s “The School Friend” (though “Ringing the Changes,” “The Inner Room,” and “The Wine Dark Sea” are always present in my mind), Janice Galloway’s “it was,” Krause’s “The Snake” and “Metal Sky”. Setting aside “Wendigo” and “The Willows,” Blackwood’s “The Man Whom the Trees Loved” belongs here, as does James Tiptree Jr.’s haunting “Beyond the Dead Reef,” and Campbell’s novel The Darkest Part of the Woods is a masterpiece that had a huge impact on me relatively recently. I could go on and on, but yeah, Bellairs was the instigator. I blame him.
The Plutonian: Why did you decide to write weird horror and why is weird horror important to you?
Slatsky: I’ve had incidents of sleep paralysis all my life. The anxiety, the helplessness was something I was fascinated with even while dreading any further occurrences. I tried to draw inspiration from that terror when I started submitting shortly after I turned 41 and realized I’d never followed through on trying to get published despite writing as long as I can remember.
Shortly before I started submitting I discovered Laird Barron, Livia Llewellyn, Joe Pulver, and Adam Golaski—extraordinarily gifted authors telling stories in a manner I wasn’t even close to emulating skill-wise, but sounding like the tales I’d always wanted to tell. So that anxiety over just how sharp the talent out there was and my hitting the wrong side of four decades booted me in the ass and forced me to actually send out the stuff I’d been writing, but never dreaming of submitting, for as long as I can remember.
As to the why, well, weird fiction allows me an uninhibited exploration of everything I find fascinating about philosophy, literature, socio-political issues, and science. Horror is that liminal space between beauty and the grotesque, between the borders of terror and ecstasy. Horror is asking questions about the ultimate fate of existence. There is no intelligent creator, no afterlife, no psychic powers, no magic. We’re all staring into the abyss, but some of us are overwhelmed with questions of what lies beyond the abyss. We look to horror for some mote of comfort by being discomfited, find that which is appealing within the unappealing.
The Plutonian: Can you tell us about any future works coming from you?
Slatsky: Not too much on the immediate horizon. My limited edition hardback of Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales will be released next year. And while I’m under no delusion that the new short story and novelette in this version will compel people to buy the book, I will say Dave Felton’s cover and interior art is more than incentive enough. I hope readers enjoy it.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Plutonian: First off thank you for taking the time to answer some questions.
Sam: Happy to do so, thanks for asking them!
Plutonian: As a lover of books and genre fiction it has always been a dream of mine to have my own book press. How did you get into book publishing?
Sam: I had done a couple of nonfiction books in the past through my day jobs; I’m a production artist and technical writer, usually. One was a small book on computer security by Bruce Schneier, and the other was a textbook on doing statistics with Excel. The textbook was not fun at all, and I focused on other stuff for a while. I was unemployed for a good chunk of 2010 and 2011, doing freelance work but no day job. I got involved with a small press that was starting up in Davis and worked with them for a couple of years. I didn’t expect to get rich there, but I never made any money from that – like any, at all – so after seven print books and four e-books I left.
I enjoy doing layout and wanted to keep doing books but was having trouble getting work. I talked with a couple of larger genre presses but that never came to anything. Finally I said screw it, I’ll do it myself.
Plutonian: Can you tell us the origins of Dim Shores press and also how the name for it came about?
Sam: Once I decided to do something, I put together a spreadsheet and looked at a bunch of numbers. When my eyes unglazed I settled on short-run chapbooks as the least financially stressful way to go. I sold some of my books and records to get starting money while trying to come up with a name. I was paging through some of my books looking for inspiration when I came across this passage in Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Coming of the White Worm:” Beyond the verges of the ice he saw a sea that lay remotely and far beneath; and beyond the sea the low looming of a dim shore. I really liked the image that made in my brain, very mysterious and ominous. It also helped that dimshores.com was available.
Plutonian: Dim Shores has some of the most interesting weird horror authors like Nicolay, Bartlett and Thomas in its ranks, can tell us how you first came across these author’s work?
Sam: I met Jeffrey Thomas at NecronomiCon 2013. I spent a very enjoyable evening in a bar with Jeff and Justin Steele and we have stayed friends since. I have to admit I didn't know much about Jeff’s work at the time but he was such a great guy that I sought it out. I’m very glad I did. Scott Nicolay was actually my room mate at that same convention. We knew each other a little bit from message boards but had never met. Again, he was a great guy so I tracked down as much of his work as I could and liked it a lot.
And speaking of Justin Steele, it was his review blog The Arkham Digest that turned me on to Matthew M. Bartlett. He gave Matt’s “Gateways to Abomination” an excellent review and it sounded so intriguing I immediately ordered a copy. It turned out to be one of my favorite things I read in 2014. We struck up an online friendship, and I jumped at the chance to release one of his stories. I finally met Matt at NecronomiCon 2015 and we had a blast.
The weird community is absolutely brimming with friendly and helpful folks, and I probably wouldn’t be doing Dim Shores if I hadn’t gone to NecronomiCon and a couple of H. P. Lovecraft Film Festivals and met the people that I did.
Plutonian: Can you talk about what you feel the importance of weird horror is?
Sam: For me personally, it is a way to shunt the horror and general dread that comes standard with being alive. Weird horror is one of the few things that achieves that level of disassociation for me. I’m not a fan of the more extreme and/or graphic and/or realistic horror. While I was a gorehound as an angry teen-ager, I loathe the so-called torture porn genre and generally avoid splatter stuff. I’m much more interested in threats to the mind than the body.
In general, I think weird horror is most important for sneaking in new ideas and viewpoints to the larger horror and dark fantasy world. Weird fiction by it’s nature often takes an unusual approach, and sometimes that bubbles up in to the more mainstream areas.
Plutonian: What are the “ must read “ weird horror books ( novels and collections ) to you?
Sam: Man, there are a bunch. Like a lot of people, my introduction to weird fiction came via Lovecraft. I still think he is well worth reading, and I am very glad to see the weird community address the more problematic aspects of his work. Some stories are so virulently racist that it’s actually a little startling; that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be read at all, just that he should be read consciously. Of all his works, my favorites are “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” “At The Mountains of Madness,” and “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” These are also some of his longest stories, which is funny because I think the weird usually works best in shorter pieces.
I am sorely under-read in the classics of the genre, but I can add Clark Ashton Smith as another essential weird writer. He is at time almost whimsical, and then there are pitch-black stories like “The Isle of the Torturers” that just pile on the doom and despair. For both Lovecraft and Smith, I’d say get the Penguin Classics editions and go on from there.
For more current writers, top of my list is Thomas Ligotti. I stumbled on to a copy of “The Shadow at the Bottom of the World” and it just blew me away. And Penguin Classics just released an edition of his first two collections in one book, an incredible value as previous editions are hard to come by and quite pricey. Unmissable.
“The Sea of Ash” by Scott Thomas is a fantastic story, also one of the best things I read in 2014, along with the previously-mentioned “Gateways to Abomination.” Richard Gavin’s “The Darkly Splendid Realm” made a huge impression on me, as did “Nightingale Songs” by Simon Strantzas and “The Wide Carnivorous Sky” by John Langan.
For another flavor of weird, Cody Goodfellow does things and goes places where few others venture. His collection “All-Monster Action” is by turns enthralling, gross, brilliant, and gross. I could say the same about his latest novel “Repo Shark” but I wouldn’t really classify that one as weird horror, more a bizarre adventure kind of thing. I do recommend it though.
Scott Nicolay’s “Ana Kai Tangata” is a very impressive debut collection that I loved. The stories are longer and Scott has room to stretch out and lay solid foundations for the very un-solid things that happen. The title story is a particular favorite.
Laird Barron has written one of the few weird novels I’ve read, “The Croning.” I loved it, and his short story collections are also excellent. He has a reputation for hard-boiled weird noir, and I really enjoy that, but he also writes from other perspectives and those stories are just as enjoyable for me. I recently read S.P. Miskowski’s “Knock Knock,” another weird novel that I really liked and highly recommend.
And pretty much anything by Jeffrey Thomas could be on this list, seriously. I’m happy that there is still a lot of his work that I haven’t read, because that means I still get to read it for the first time. I recently read his freaky “Subject 11,” maybe start there or with one of the Punktown books.
Joe Pulver’s “Blood Will Have It’s Season” was one of the more difficult books I’ve read. At times it is extremely graphic and those parts were hard for me to get through (I would take breaks and read from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” for balance), but it is worth the effort. No one else writes like Joe, and what he is doing is both important and very interesting.
This is a short list made up of what first came to mind. I’ll stop here in interest of time and space, but there are literally dozens of other authors and books I consider essential.
Plutonian: Do you have any favorite horror films?
Sam: I don't watch a lot of horror movies (or movies period) these days but I do have some perennial favorites. The first horror movie I saw on the big screen was “An American Werewolf in London.” I was 12 and it literally scared me out of the movie theater. I did eventually see the whole thing, a number of times. Most everyone I know would probably include “Alien” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing” on this list, and I will too. I love both unconditionally. The “Evil Dead” films and “Dead Alive” are so much fun. Stuart Gordon’s “Dagon” captures a truly weird and Lovecraft-ish vibe, not nearly as campy as the also beloved-by-me “Reanimator” and “From Beyond.”
About the only recent horror movie I’ve seen is “Beyond the Black Rainbow.” That will require another viewing or two to parse, but I was quite taken by the general atmosphere of the movie.
Plutonian: Do you celebrate Halloween? Any Halloween traditions?
Sam: I love Halloween but don’t really make a big thing of it anymore. My wife and I usually go to a party thrown by friends, or stay home and hand out candy to the few kids that actually trick-or-treat around here.
Plutonian: How has social media affected the small press scene?
Sam: It is hard for me to say, as I was not really involved with the scene in the days before social media. MySpace was the first social media thing in which I participated, and it was there and through the Thomas Ligotti forums (ligotti.net) where I first came across, and became friends with, a number of the people I’ve mentioned here.
I have always been a huge music fan, and I do remember what that was like before the rise of social media, or even the internet in general. I found out about new bands and records through zines and college radio, but if Tower Books didn’t carry it or KFJC didn’t play it, I probably wasn’t going to hear about it. These days most of the new stuff I find is through Facebook and Bandcamp.
There wouldn’t be a Dim Shores without message boards and a hub like Facebook. So far my marketing strategy has been fairly non-existent, just “I don’t know, post it on Facebook I guess.” While not the most effective, it is also basically free. And that is where social media really has an impact on all creative scenes: it is worlds easier for creators and people who are into what those creators do to find each other now. Social media and the ability to economically print short run and print-on-demand books revolutionized – are still revolutionizing – all aspects of the publishing process. It is incredibly easy to go to Facebook or Goodreads and find out about new authors and books. Digital printing allows people like me to do print runs of 100 or 150 chapbooks at a reasonable cost, and Facebook, blogs, and even (ugh) Twitter help spread the word and reach readers without costing anything except time.
Plutonian: What is the future of Dim Shores? ( where would you like to see it go? )
Sam: I am sticking to chapbooks for now, but some time next year I would like to expand to anthologies and maybe even single-author collections. I have an anthology idea and a wish list of authors to invite, but financially I’m not quite there yet. We’ll see!
Plutonian: What upcoming works are in the pipeline from Dim Shores?
Sam: I just sent the next chapbook off to the printer: “The Nectar of Nightmares” by Craig Laurance Gidney with art from Orion Zangara should be printed and in my hands before the end of the month. It is more fantastical than horrific, a little different from the first three chapbooks, and that is exactly what I want to do. Dim Shores books will always have a dark edge to them but will not always be horror as such.
After that will be a chapbook from S.P. Miskowski, scheduled to be published in December. Gemma Files is writing a story that should see the light of day in February, and I have a cool story in hand from Cody Goodfellow that I need to schedule.
There are three other projects in the works. One involves Jeffrey Thomas again, and one is with another alumni. The third hasn’t been officially revealed yet. I will be publishing an older piece by a currently active master of the weird who has not been named in this interview. It’s long, about 23k words, and I hope that will be out by Spring. Once I actually get into the layout and we have an artist attached I’ll spill more beans.