Archive for the short stories Category

Short Stories 3: Lovecraft and looking death in the eye

Posted in book, fantasy, review, richard kunzmann, short stories, speculative fiction, Uncategorized, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2009 by richardkunzmann

Lovecraft Bloodcurdling Tales “I’m writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more.” Dagon, H.P. Lovecraft

LovecraftAside from the fact that H.P. Lovecraft has a name that perfectly suits the horror genre, and a peculiar look about him which suggests he’d jumped straight out of the story A Shadow over Innsmouth, the man’s short fiction is, if not profound or incredibly skilled, then certainly imaginative and unusual.

Continuing with my list of favourite short story writers, Lovecraft is one of the few authors I go back to over and again. He has been hugely influential in horror and science fiction, even though many of his stories read like Sherlock Holmes tales. What makes his work so enduring is the nature of the horror to which his protagonists are ultimately exposed. Invariably, his characters epitomise the enlightened man – rational, intellectual, calmly inquisitive – who comes into contact with some mystery which unleashes an awesome truth that reveals to our hero the fragility of his own existence and ultimately leads to insanity or death.

Lovecraft Dreams of TerrorLovecraft’s single obsession is a universe that is fundamentally unknowable and destructive, no matter how far our sciences and religions purportedly develop us as a species. It’s a paranoid and pessimistic vision, much in tune with Nietzsche and Schopenhauer’s philosophies, but it’s one we must admit is as accessible as it is frightening. The fear and horror Lovecraft writes about goes well beyond the pain of death or torture, so heavily portrayed these days in crime fiction and dreary splatterporn films like Saw,Hostel and Frontier(s). His work challenges us to think more deeply about the moment of death when we have to face up to the fact that there is no afterlife, that we’ve been lying to ourselves all our lives, and when we die we cease to exist and return to entropy.

If Freud is right, and we as a species derive as much creative force from death as we do from life, Lovecraft must surely be a high priest of the death drive, or Thanatos – the ancient Greek personification of death, but also a word just as easily plucked from the Cthulhu mythos for which this strange author is most famous.

Lovecraft Tales of the Cthulhu MythosSo many people to whom I’ve lent his books quickly return them with a look of wretched disgust on their faces. It’s a universal law that you either love or hate Lovecraft. His dialogue can be sickly, his style often clunky and littered with such overused and abused terms as “cyclopean”, “antediluvian” and “eldritch”, to name but a few. His misogynist views and racism are also well documented (and glorified by other misogynists like Michele Houellebeque), while the plot lines remained fairly standard throughout his writing career.

But all of these criticisms miss the point.

Lovecraft Road to MadnessI personally feel his outdated prose lends itself to the stories he writes, and like J.G. Ballard and Mitch Cullin (Tidelands), or photographers Diane Arbus and Roger Ballen, Lovecraft is an artist who as turned away from what is traditionally accepted as aesthetic pure, and beaten his own strange path to create something hauntingly enduring.

Mythbusters:

Contrary to popular belief the Necronomicon did NOT first appear in Evil Dead films, starring Bruce Campbell, and it isn’t a real ‘lost’ tomb. It was invented by H.P. Lovecraft who credited the fictional “Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred” with its writing. It’s a theme he kept coming back to, just like the Miskatonic University in Providence.

My essential reads (roughly in order of favourites):

At the Mountains of Madness
The Dunwich horror
The Rats in the Walls
The Music of Erich Zann
The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath
The Colour out of Space

A number of authors have paid tribute to Lovecraft, of which my favourite story must be Stephen King’s Jerusalem’s Lot, August Derleth’s Dweller in the Darkness, and Robert Bloch’s various stories appearing in Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos.

Reputed famous fans:

Guillermo Del Toro
Neil Gaiman
Clive Barker
Joe R. Landsdale
H. R. Geiger
Alan Moore

Gaiman also who wrote a pretty good Lovecraftian story called Shogoth’s Old Peculiar – probably a cheap shot at an unusual but tasty beer called Theakston’s Old Peculiar, which is now associated with the Harrogate Crime Festival.

Read here what others have said about his books on Goodreads and Amazon.

Music to read by:
Judas Priest’s Blood Red Skies
Diary of Dreams
Check out this blog talking about Lovecraft’s influence on metal.

Watch this rather comical movie trailer for a period short film of Call of Cthulhu

Short Stories 2: The perfect mood of Edgar Allan Poe

Posted in book, crime fiction, fantasy, mystery, review, science fiction, short stories, speculative fiction, thriller, US writers, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2009 by richardkunzmann

Hit PLAY on the YouTube cast and read on.

Previously I made a case for rebranding short stories and giving them the luxury publication they deserve. If you hang on through this series of comments on my favourite short story writers and the editors who’ve compiled them, I have some ideas on how that might be achieved. But for today, let’s share short story favourites.

First off, I have to admit, my tastes lean heavily towards the weird and grotesque, probably because I followed my dad around emergency wards when I was young and saw things kids don’t ordinarily see, and because of a hundred year old tomb I inherited from my grandmother when she died, called A Century of Creepy Stories.

It’s inside the covers of this monster that I first discovered Edgar Allan Poe.

edgar alan poe “And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revelers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” – Masque of the Red Death

Depending who you speak to, Poe has been credited with inventing just about any of the modern sub-genres of fiction – the mystery, detective fiction, science fiction, horror to name but a few – but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. What these attributions do attest to is how influential he has been in reshaping how we approach the modern novel and short story. Personally, I’m more infatuated with his macabre prose and the way he deftly crafts suspense than the themes of his finest works.

His writing is always ominous, the ebb and flow of the poetical narration often building into a crescendo that perfectly reflects the ideal form of the modern thriller, hardly ever dropping off into lengthy dénouement. The themes of his best known works often revolve around death and being buried alive, guilt and fear, murder and its consequences, and of course the supernatural. His choice of words is almost always in perfect harmony with the atmosphere he is attempting to create – surely a result of his being a poet first and foremost. His densely packed narratives are imbued with such rich textures that they lure the imagination into a realm where you forget it’s just a … short story.

An excellent example of this skill is his surreal description of the masked ball in The Masque of the Red Death , where the revelers are doing their utmost to pretend that they are not mortal and a mysterious plague cannot touch them. It’s the desperate act of embracing life and hope that ultimately makes them as ugly as any demon painted by Hieronymus Bosch. Hieronymus Bosch

My essential reads (roughly in order of favourites):

1.The Masque of the Red Death (for an excellent reading, download at Librivox here)
2. The Pit and the Pendulum
3. The Cask of Amontillado (for an excellent reading, download at Librivox here)
4. The Fall of the House of Usher

Fans reputedly include:

Bob Dylan, Stephen King, H.G Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, H.P. Lovecraft

Check out what others thought of Poe’s writing at Goodreads and at Amazon.

Best read to the music of:
Lycia
Preisner

Short Stories 1: Is it time to rethink short stories?

Posted in African fiction, Andy Cox, Black Static, Christopher Fowler, crime fiction, international crime fiction, mystery, Peter Tennant, short stories, South Africa, South African writers, Third Alternative, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2009 by richardkunzmann

5466-bad-company-cover South Africa’s first anthology of short crime fiction was recently released, to much fanfare. Bad Company, edited by Joanne Hichens, features short fiction by Deon Meyer, Michael Stanley, Margie Orford, Andrew Brown, Mike Nichol, me and many more, and has a great introduction by Lee Child. The publishers, Pan Macmillan, should be commended for sticking out their heads to get the project done, because hardly any of the big-name publishers will touch an anthology these days. Why? Because there’s no money it.

They just don’t sell.

The project put me into a reflective mood about short stories in general. When a week after the launch I could still only find one or two reviews in major media, and I had to admit this is stunning coverage for an anthology, that mood became melancholic. Why, I thought, are short stories so shunned by the broader reading market, and hence publishers, who have to chase this bunch to break even?

One can easily comment, as many authors and publishers no doubt do, on how important short stories are to the industry. We can wax on in great self-righteous furore about how this form deserves more recognition, and how good writers first tested their mettle as short story writers before finding financial success. Or we can be even lamer and quote our high school teachers on the merits of the form: short stories are much loved because they are often highly experimental in nature; they depend on thoroughly inventive plots for their success; short stories are scalpels where novels are often crude cane machetes.

Nice, that. But it still don’t mean they sell.

Can we in the industry pull the blindfold from our eyes for a second, tear the short story from its pedestal, and talk honestly about the form? If short stories are boring – and a lot of them are – I’m not going to read them, okay? What do I care for a format where authors do dry-runs for later works of staggering genius? I’d rather buy the book when they’ve got their shit together, if you don’t mind. If an anthology costs me as much as a paperback and I’m likely to only enjoy ten percent of the stories, doesn’t that mean I’ve shafted myself? Plus, a short story hardly ever gives you the sense that you’ve been taken on an otherworldly trip, does it? So why buy them when its escapism I want?

One thing that draws me to short stories is precisely the fact that they’re such a niche product. You have to hunt for the best ones, even harder than you do for a great book, so when I find a great collection it makes me feel truly special. It’s like the editor has blessed me and only me with that bundle of treasures.

I find it sad that most publishers treat short story anthologies as a necessary evil, rather than the luxury good they really are. If I could have my way, I’d give back to short stories what they thoroughly deserve: luxury branding. Limited signed editions. Hardback. Hell, let’s go all the way and say gold embossed leather. Provided the collection is a good one, of course. People that read short stories are die hard fans, and the anthologies that are great become the stuff of legend. So why attempt a cheap mass market approach on a product that’s unattractive to the masses? Doesn’t make much sense to me.

black-staticI’ll take my favourite short story magazine as an example. The Third Alternative or Black Static as it is now called, was started in 1994 by TTA Press, run by the aloof but incredibly astute Andy Cox. Instead of trying to punch out reams of short stories in a hit and run fashion, he set the bar incredibly high and only published short stories that were truly innovative. Wrapping these up in some amazing artwork printed on high quality glossy paper, and adding stellar reviews and commentary by the likes of Peter Tennant, Stephen Folk and more recently Christopher Fowler, the magazine quickly defined itself as a luxury item that’s worth owning. At a time when even the low-cost fanzines on the internet appear and disappear faster than mushrooms in a desert, this magazine has gone from strength to strength. Quality content + Quality marketing = Die hard fans.

Like everything else.

Starting with this blog, I’ll be making the case for short stories, first talking about my favourite authors, then the editors and imprints that have brought them to light, followed by what is hopefully a good suggestion for putting together better anthologies that will sell has hot limited editions.