There is a masterful consistency to be found in the fiction of Simon Strantzas which inspires and motivates me to work that much harder when crafting my own work. Strantzas is the author of three collections: Beneath the Surface, Cold to the Touch, and most recently Nightingale Songs, all of which are available from Dark Regions Press. He is continually compared to Thomas Ligotti and Robert Aickman, and I find this mix delectable. Besides producing one exceptional story after another, he also keeps a regular blog. I have a printed version of one such post (dated March 21, 2010) which I retain as a permanent fixture in my “weird fiction notebook”. It is there to remind me of the importance of biding your time when developing your first collection, making certain you are including only your strongest material and arranging it in the best possible manner. As hard as it is to set aside something you have written, remember that no artist creates a perfect piece each go round. I encourage all new writers to visit Stranzas’ website. And then be sure to read everything this phenomenal author has written.
One of my favorite pastimes is tromping through boneyards. Not that I consider myself a particularly morbid fellow or one who is obsessed with death. I enjoy burial grounds for two reasons: their beauty, and for the names which they provide. As a writer I am always on the lookout for interesting monikers, and by far the best place to cull such things is a cemetery. As such, I keep an ever-ready list of graveyard names from which to chose. As with perfecting the title of a particular story, so too is it essential to give your fictional kin a fitting name.
As a parent of two rambunctious children, I currently have but three calming vices in my life: writing, reading, and the vlog of W. H. Pugmire. It is a bit ironic, really, given the fact that Pugmire has stated on more than one occasion that his own home life is continually chaotic. But calm is not all which Pugmire brings to this lover of weird fiction. He is extraordinarily insightful in all matters Lovecraftian. Indeed, he has been “the ultimate fanboy” of HPL since the 1970s, and today is considered one of the top Lovecraftian kids on the block. While I have only begun to dip into his fiction, to hear him speak of his fictional Sesqua Valley (the setting of much of his work) is fascinating and inspiring to say the least. Feel free to experience Pugmire’s vlog for yourself. If schooling in HPL (and all matters weird) is what ye seek, ye can’t go wrong with WHP.
Recently, upon informing a friend that I was planning an excursion to Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, with a side trip expected to Sauk City (the hometown of August Derleth and Arkham House), I was told that I must seek out “the lonesome place”. Now, it should be said that this friend of mine has amassed quite a collection of Arkham House books over the years and was gracious enough to lend me his copy of Lonesome Places (1962) so that I might better prepare myself for this journey into the dark heart of my neighboring state. While I have read my fair share of Derleth, I had never once heard of this particular “place” or the volume in which it first appeared. Needless to say, I consumed the book in the space of a few nights; and, while I enjoyed most of the offerings, the two which stood out as exceptional pieces of literary weird fiction were “The Lonesome Place” and “A Room in a House”. Both center upon the “dark things” which are given life through a child’s terror of (in these instances) either having to pass by an unlit grain elevator at night or spending time in a darkened storage room as punishment for wrongdoing. In my opinion, Derleth is at his very best in these particular tales. They are perfectly crafted and offer a delightful view of small town life. Both are definitely worth seeking out. Indeed, I have already added them to my own ever-growing anthology of weird treasures.
My reason for writing stories is to give myself the satisfaction of visualising more clearly and detailedly and stably the vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions of wonder, beauty, and adventurous expectancy which are conveyed to me by certain sights (scenic, architectural, atmospheric, etc.), ideas, occurrences, and images encountered in art and literature. I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best — one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which for ever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasise the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of nature-defying illusions. Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or “outsideness” without laying stress on the emotion of fear. The reason why time plays a great part in so many of my tales is that this element looms up in my mind as the most profoundly dramatic and grimly terrible thing in the universe. Conflict with time seems to me the most potent and fruitful theme in all human expression.
While my chosen form of story-writing is obviously a special and perhaps a narrow one, it is none the less a persistent and permanent type of expression, as old as literature itself. There will always be a small percentage of persons who feel a burning curiosity about unknown outer space, and a burning desire to escape from the prison-house of the known and the real into those enchanted lands of incredible adventure and infinite possibilities which dreams open up to us, and which things like deep woods, fantastic urban towers, and flaming sunsets momentarily suggest….
Atmosphere, not action, is the great desideratum of weird fiction. Indeed, all that a wonder story can ever be is a vivid picture of a certain type of human mood. The moment it tries to be anything else it becomes cheap, puerile, and unconvincing. Prime emphasis should be given to subtle suggestion — imperceptible hints and touches of selective associative detail which express shadings of moods and build up a vague illusion of the strange reality of the unreal….
[Excerpted from Lovecraft’s “Some Notes on the Writing of Weird Fiction”]