Showing posts with label Muses. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Muses. Show all posts

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Stephen Leigh - Immortal Interview


The series of "Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction" interviews engage contemporary authors & artists to reveal their muses; this one features Stephen Leigh, author of many books including Immortal Muse (S.E. Review link), which is a beautiful blend of historical fiction and alchemical fantasy. Let's learn about his muses.

Bio:  Stephen Leigh (SL) hails from Cincinnati and has professionally published over 26 novels and ~50 short stories (including those in George RR Martin's WILD CARDS).  Steve has several identities, having also written under the pseudonyms “S. L. Farrell” and “Matt Farrell” in both the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres.  He is a musician and vocalist too, active in several local bands. Stephen teaches creative writing at Northern Kentucky University and has mentored many via his teaching and his online essays.

SE: Pseudonyms & Genre Muses:  You've written dozens of novels in various genres. Do you have different muses per genre?

SL: No, I just have wide tastes in what I like to read, which means I have similarly wide tastes in what I like to write.  To my mind, there’s only one Muse, no matter what creative endeavor I’m engaged in or what genre I’m writing.

SE: Cross-over Muses: Is there any muse that inspired you to express something in multiple forms?  If so, please identify the books/music that are connected.  If not, have you considered linking the content of your music and writing?

SL: In CROW OF CONNEMARA, my latest book (like IMMORTAL MUSE, a stand-alone novel... sorta), one of the main protagonists is a musician. As a result, there’s a lot of Celtic music referenced and quoted in the novel, and at one point, he sings one of his ‘original’ songs… but of course that’s one of mine, actually.  Unfortunately, though I’ve played the song out several times on gigs, I don’t have a recording of it to share…

Similarly, in the WILD CARDS shared world series (edited by George RR Martin), with which I’ve been involved since the beginnings way back in the mid-80s, one of my characters is “Drummer Boy”, who’s in a band called “Joker Plague.”  The Joker Plague lyrics I’ve quoted in a few books in that series are all mine, some from songs I’ve written, other just made up for the situation.

SE: Fine Arts: You play in bands and write, but your bachelor's degree is in Fine Arts. Any chance your foundations will emerge publicly? Is there a sketch, photograph, or painting we can share? 

SL: Here are a few…  Below is a sketch I did a few years back -- of nothing in particular, just a landscape in my head...
S.Leigh Sketch 
Here are a couple others, another pencil sketch and a watercolor, again imaginary landscapes.
  
S. Leigh Watercolor and Sketch

A Miccail, by S. Leigh
And just for a change of pace, I drawing I did of a Miccail for DARK WATER’S EMBRACE, which never went into the original publication, but was added when I got the rights back to the book and re-published the novel through Arc Manor/Phoenix Press -- that version’s still available on Amazon.

On my website, in what I call “The Attic,” there are some old illustrations that I put together to help me visualize the setting of a novel, but were never used by the publishers.  The Attic’s at http://www.farrellworlds.com/oldpages/Attic.html if anyone wants to check them out.

Oh… and for epic fantasy books set in alternate worlds, I generally create a map to help me ‘see’ the landscape of the world.  You’ll find such in the Cloudmages series (by S.L. Farrell:  HOLDER OF LIGHTNING, MAGE OF CLOUDS, and HEIR OF STONE) and in the Nessantico Cycle (also by S.L. Farrell: A MAGIC OF TWILIGHT, A MAGIC OF NIGHTFALL, and A MAGIC OF DAWN) -- for all of those, I created the maps that are in the books.

SE: Pubs and Beer: Is there a bar/pub within greater Cincinnati/Newport that inspired Immortal Muses' "Bent Calliope"? Is there a coven of artisans who meet there?

SL: I like the idea of a ‘coven’ of creative types, but I’m afraid not; the Bent Calliope was wish fulfillment on my part. I’ve played music in (and had a drink or two in) lots of bars and taverns over the decades. I wish here was a local bar like that -- a kind of creative “Cheers” where everybody knows your name (and what you wrote/composed/drew/painted/sculpted/published), and where a real Muse occasionally dropped in to enhance what you were doing -- wouldn’t that be nice!

But if one exists, I’ve yet to find it.  Alas.

SE: Art & Alchemy? Prior 1600, scientists and artists had overlapping interests/skills; scientists had to draw their own data in sketchbooks; conversely, artists had to craft/prepare their own pigments and materials (via chemistry). Artists and alchemists frequented the same apothecaries. The art & science of transmuting materials was a shared goal. What inspired you to fictionalize alchemical history and begin Immortal Muse?

Modigliani's Jeanne Hébuterne
SL: Honestly, the alchemy came in late in the process -- for me, inspiration for novels generally springs from more than one source.  Here’s how it happened with IMMORTAL MUSE… (It’s a longish tale, so settle in…I’ll try to be concise. Honest.)  In January of 2010, I’d finished A MAGIC OF DAWN, the last of the ‘Nessantico Cycle’ books (written as “S.L. Farrell”) and I’d begun thinking about what I wanted to write next.  In the mornings, I generally go through a short list of websites as part of my routine; one site was the BBC’s “Pictures of the Day” (alas, they no longer do this…) where they collected striking photographs from around the world.  That day, one of the pics showed a woman reflected in (I believe) a hubcap, which stretched and elongated her figure.  Huh, I thought, that reminds me of the Modigliani paintings from my Art History classes… which sent me off googling Modigliani.

In doing that, I noticed that many of Modigliani’s portraits were of the same woman, Jeanne Hébuterne.  Here’s one. So I also googled Jeanne Hébuterne, and came across a photograph of her.
Jeanne Hébuterne
I was immediately struck by her, especially those wonderful, dark, soul-searching eyes.  I looked up the incredibly tragic story of the love affair between Jeanne and Amedeo (I’ll leave it to the reader to find that for themselves). I also wrote a blog post about that bit of serendipitous research, the last line of which was: “If a (much younger and unattached) me were sent back to 1916 or so, I might go looking for Jeanne. Maybe I'll just put her in a story instead...”  Mind you, I had no thoughts of actually doing that at that moment.  But the thought was now in my subconscious.

So, moving on…  I habitually read a lot of non-fiction (I think of it as “mining for ideas”) and one such was a book by Francine Prose called THE LIVES OF THE MUSES, about several well-known women who had been the muses of and influenced the artistic creations of the artists whom they loved.  It was a decent book that I enjoyed reading (though someone needs write a book which includes male muses…).  And I started wondering: What if…  What if there was a genuine Muse, a person who literally did enhance the creativity of an artist?  Maybe that could be my next book: an urban fantasy around that concept.  Hmm…  But I couldn’t quite find the ‘hook’ I wanted in that idea.  (And so that thought went into the subconscious hopper, too).

While I was flailing around, I read through some old novel proposals I’d started and abandoned.  One was about two immortal people chasing each other through time.  The proposal really sucked (which is why I never sent it out), but I found that I still had some fascination with the core idea there.  (Into the hopper…)

Thinking about immortality took me into doing some research on alchemy, which quickly led me to Nicolas and Perenelle Flamel, and the story that after Nicolas died (as a fairly rich man), grave robbers broke into his tomb because they thought there might be valuables buried with him… and found that the tomb was empty.  And there were rumors that people had glimpsed Nicolas and Perenelle long after their supposed deaths.  Hmm…  Into the hopper.

I was also at the time reading another non-fiction book (translated from French) called PARIS IN THE MIDDLE AGES, by Simone Roux.  It looks at the same timeframe as the Flamels (though it doesn’t particularly mention them) but there were lovely atmospheric details in the book that drew me into wanting to set a story in Paris in that time.  Yes, into the hopper…

And (finally, at last!), at a dinner with some friends, we started talking about vampires and why every other book in the bookstores at that time seemed to be another vampire story.  (No, IMMORTAL MUSE has no vampires!)  I posited during that conversation that one reason vampires had such popularity is that can potentially live forever, and that hey, I might be willing to trade having to suck blood from the living for that chance.  (Into the hopper…)

It all came together in the shower, a morning or two after that conversation. (I know, try to get that image out of your mind…)  What if -- again, that lovely seminal phrase for so much science fiction and fantasy -- Perenelle Flamel had been Nicolas’ muse, and he hers in return?  What if she, not he, created the immortality potion that was half of the Philosopher’s Stone?  What if that accomplishment really ticked off Nicolas?  What if -- as a result of taking the elixir -- she was ‘cursed’ (somewhat vampirically, if I can coin a word) by being required to ‘feed’ on creative energy: she must be a Muse for the entirety of her immortal life?  What if Nicolas has also taken her potion and has been similarly cursed (though he ‘feeds’ on physical pain -- in the book, Nicolas is not a good person). He is chasing Perenelle through time, eternally angry with her? What if some of these famous artistic muses of history were actually Perenelle?

Aha… The structure of the book began to fall together for me:  a ‘present-day’ thread that would go through the entire novel, with historical tales layered in-between.  Why, Modigliani and Jeanne could be one of those… I wrote up the proposal in a creative heat in March of 2010 and sent it to Sheila Gilbert at DAW, who’s my editor; she loved it.  I started researching artists and muses, and putting together the book…

Mind you, the book would undergo several significant and major changes during the writing and revisions.  For instance, I wrote up a long (15,000 words or so) historical segment with Modigliani and Jeanne that I really liked, then realized that for a few good reasons it didn’t work with the overall arc of the book, and ended up reluctantly cutting it.  A similarly long and completed Nathaniel Hawthorne sequence was likewise abandoned, as were unfinished segments with Sonya Noskowiak (a photographer) and Artemisia Gentileschi (one of my favorite Baroque painters).  The Gustav Klimt, Charlotte Salomon, and Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier segments emerged late in the revisions, partially as ‘replacements’ for the cut sections.

Sometimes, no matter how fond you are of what you’ve written, no matter how much effort and labor you’ve put into the creation of a segment, you have to kill it to make the book a better book.

     SE:  Is there a specific Klimt or Salomon work that you worked from?

SL: I’ve always been fascinated by Klimt’s paintings and drawing, and his distinctive style.  From a research standpoint, I read GUSTAV KLIMT: Painter of Women by Susanna Partsch, as well as VIENNA MODERNISM 1890 – 1910 by Isabella Ackert, along with some online, spur-of-the moment research at need.  Again, I borrowed real historical characters from his life and times, but the ‘Perenelle’ in this timeframe, unlike most of the others, is entirely fictional.

Salomon's "Life? Or Theater?"
Klimt's Lady With Fan (Emilio Floge)

Charlotte Salomon I hadn’t been familiar with, but in researching artists of the WWII era (because I felt I needed someone from that timeframe), I came across her and was fascinated by her story.  Like Anne Frank, her life was tragically cut short, and who knows what she might have done had she lived.  Still, her evocative autobiographical paintings are a great legacy.  For research there, I read TO PAINT HER LIFE: Charlotte Salomon in the Nazi Era by Mary Lowenthal Felstiner, as well as doing a fair amount of research into the political environment in France at the time.

For those interested in what was true and where I took fictional liberties in the various historical eras, I detail that in the Afterword of IMMORTAL MUSE.

Waiting for a Muse: In your essay "TenThings I've Learned (As A Writer)" you address how mature professionals have to move past waiting for their muses. Can you comment on your current relationship with your muse? Is she understanding that you can't always work on her timing?

"4: Make writing a dirty habit
In my early career, I waited for the muse to appear before I wrote. I thought stories were supposed to flow in sparkling fire from my pen to the page, fully formed and perfect. I’d always been told (by people who weren’t writers themselves but who taught literature) that this was how Capital-A Art worked. 
That’s complete and utter bullshit. 
... What I slowly realized was that if I hoped to forge a career as a writer, I couldn’t wait for the fickle muse to appear. I had to write without her… because once you start writing, the muse can’t stand to be left out and eventually shows up at your side. The very act of writing attracts the muse to you." - S.L. Farrell
I think it’s more a matter of me realizing that my job is to write, whether or not the Muse sits down with me or not. If what spews out onto the page is crap, well, that’s why we revise (and revise, and revise again).  Unlike the math tests I remember in school, writers don’t have to ‘show their work.’  No one except the writer is required to read the ugly, deformed drafts or view all the changes that get made, scenes we’ve cut,  rearrangements we’ve made, mistakes we’ve made and corrected, essential foreshadowing we added at the last minute, and so on.

If you persist, eventually the Muse does show up. Eventually. At some point, things start to gel and come together.  All we give our readers is the final, polished version. My task as a writer is to make sure that what I send out to Sheila and other editors is the best I’m capable of writing at the time. If I don’t like what I’ve written, then it doesn’t go out. If I can honestly say that I couldn’t write the story any better than I’ve written it at this point in time and with the skill that I currently have, then I’ve done my job (and so has my Muse).

If the editor to whom I send the piece passes on it, that’s their decision -- it happens. If a reader, once the piece is published, doesn’t care for it, well, that happens too; I’ve no control over that. Writers write. Once the writing is done and the work has found a home somewhere, our job’s done.

Thanks to Stephen for taking the time for revealing all these details. Readers can learn more about him via his blog and reading his work!

       Amazon Page


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Art, Beauty, and Fantasy Fiction: An Interview with Janet E. Morris

I have been fascinated with many Horror/Fantasy writers' view on the themes of "Beauty" and "Art" (see essay Undercurrent of Dark Muses in Weird Fiction ). In short, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, R.E. Howard...even Edgar Allen Poe...wrote essays/letters in which they professed their fiction as being Art with a level of Beauty. For them Beauty was defined more of an emotive-experience rather than something "pretty" or related to "sex/gender." These authors are interestingly (a) all men, and (b) rarely wrote about heroines, or from the female perspective.  

Via the Sword & Sorcery Group on Goodreads-com, I engaged author Janet Morris (JEM) about these themes. JEM has pushed people's expectations of sexuality and the role of women in fantasy fiction since 1976; she has since published more than 20 novels, many co-authored with her husband Chris Morris (including the Sacred Band of Stepsons of the Thieves World series; she also created and edited the Bangsian fantasy series Heroes in Hell).  She is still writing, recently contributing to Writing Fantasy Heroes: Powerful Advice from the ProsIncidentally, her expanded editions of her Sacred Band books are being re-released now (Video Trailer).  She frequently interacts in the Sword & Sorcery Group on Goodreads-com, which is currently running a Groupread on Heroines (everyone is invited, so feel welcome to join).  Her below comment suggested she had a lot more to share:
"Men in woman-suits do not women make, and the novel's purpose in the world is to create story to carry forth common values and shared ethos; when those values are deformed, and that deformation taken for true, we all suffer." Janet E. Morris - 2013
JEM kindly agreed to an interview and simply overwhelmed me with her response.  She is a font of information, and her responses should appeal to readers and aspiring authors (incidentally, Alexandra Butcher recently posted an insightful, interview with JEM on a broader range of topics).  She shared loads of insights and inspirational messages, I highlighted a few in blue.  Thank you JEM for your continued passion for writing, and for sharing your philospohy on Beauty and Art in Fantasy Fiction:  

  1. Were you aiming to recast/redefine the definition of beauty at all in your work? If so, would the Silistra series be the most representative? Link to JEM's answer-1
  2. How exactly did you strategize writing fiction featuring a powerful woman without pandering to stereotypes (i.e. chic's in chainmail) or making her wear a "man-suit"?  Link to JEM's answer-2 
  3. Have you ever thought of your own fiction as beautiful art? Link to JEM's answer-3 


Intro) JEM: Art is the process and Beauty the goal

Herein we’ll briefly explore Art and Beauty in fantastical literature, which may include fantasy and horror for purposes of discussion, not only historically, but how this single core issue is changing today: is Art and its associated Beauty still a valid goal in modern fiction, despite the vast quantity of fiction written by those aiming to capture the lowest common denominator of readership?
1) Was Estri & Silistra strategically conceived to create a new sort of female hero?
JEM: When I wrote High Couch of Silistra, I was twenty-five and loved being female; my body and mind were my laboratory, and I wanted to write the book I couldn’t find to read: not a book that was a clumsy attempt to treat a woman as a man, or as an enemy or competitor of men, or as a victim of men, but as someone powerful in a different society for genetic and political reasons; a protagonist whose sensuality and sexuality are at the heart of her world, and whose travails are self-created, so that I could explore the genetics of behavior: Estri, protagonist, is a courtesan and an adventuress, but not a sword-swinging hero tougher than any man around her. The books explore the differences and complementarities between men and women and the exercise of power, both personal and societal; they aren’t about a man who happens to live in a woman’s body. The Silistra Quartet is well discussed by Kaler in The Picara, where she compares the Silistra Quartet to the Picara model, from which it does purposely diverge.
My strategy was simply to write a book that spoke for a unique viewpoint, not for the “woman’s movement” (who were offended that it diverged from their politics) or the conservative male-backlash audience. Like Disraeli, I always write the book I want to read. In Silistra, all stereotypes are turned on their heads; emotion rules; sexuality is sometimes graphic as it pertains to power among and between sexes: it’s a book about people balancing free will against their hard-wired natures, not about women in man-suits or men in woman-suits. At the end of Wind from the Abyss, the third in the series, Estri’s counterpart Sereth reminds us, “We are all bound, the highest no less than the meanest.” Human extravagances and limitations are what, for me, Silistra is about, but it is not a series for the erotically-averse, or the intellectually timid.
Boris Vallejo - High Couch of Silistra Cover
Vallejo - High Couch of Silistra Cover Art
None of our heroines have ever worn chain mail:  Estri's chains are on her wait and sometimes on her writs; Shebat Kerrion, our science fantasy heroine of the Dream Dancer/Kerrion Consortium trilogy, is a newcomer to the space-faring culture where she wanders and a catalyst for change; the various Sacred Band of Stepsons heroines include Jihan, who has scale armor and a few supernatural powers appropriate to the daughter of the god of wind and wave; Kama has leather and linen armor, just like the men she serves among  (she wants to be a man so her father will respect her, but is a poet most of all); Cime wears god-forged armor or doeskin leathers, is a sorcerer-slayer by vocation, is also picaresque, and rules Tempus' heart and by extension, the Sacred Band at times.  It's not their weapons or outfits or special powers that make them heroic, but their goals and deeds, hopes and dreams.  When I saw the Boris High Couch cover for the first time, I was insulted that anyone could have derived the brass bra and Gucci boots image from my work. 
(this next paragraph is paraphrased from her Goodreads.com comment): I was a fine arts major in school. My first cover was the Boris High Couch, commissioned by Bantam for High Couch of Silistra. I didn't think it matched the description, so I got Bantam to arrange for me to talk to him and request changes (feathered wings to non-feathered, etc). He didn't like that. So we changed to someone else thereafter. I had always loved the Frazetta covers, and in Germany I had Chris Achilleos for the German versions of the Silistra series, then Frazetta for the German Tempus. But now that I have cover control, I'm choosing Rubens and ancient art that truly moves me. The new cover for Tempus, and The Sacred Band cover, and the Beyond sub-series with Rubens covera, are pleasing me because I can look at them for hours and always see something that evokes the heart of the stories within. Matching books to cover, when centuries separate book and cover creation, has been an adventure. Strangest experience was finding the three Rubens we're using for Beyond Sanctuary, Beyond the Veil, and Beyond Wizardwall and realizing that each of those three paintings fit one of the three books nearly perfectly.
SEL asks whether I’m aiming to recast/redefine the definition of beauty in my work and, if so, would the Silistra series be the most representative? The answer to that is simple: like everyone concerned with writing Art, I am always striving, always hoping to improve, always experimenting, pushing my limits, trying to reach Homeric heights – but for me in my time, not by copying him in his. What is most beautiful about literature as Art is its ability to transport, to materialize a vision, whole cloth, in the reader’s mind, and I’m still working on doing that. The most representative of my books is probably my most recent novel, written with Chris Morris, The Sacred Band, grappling as it does with what is common to all, and unique in some: taking hold of mythos and ethos, sexuality of every sort, and exploring power and emotion at their best and worst. My favorite of my books is  I, the Sun, biographical novel of Suppiluliumas, Great King of Hatti, because his own words set my soul afire, and the task – flavoring my style with his writings, creating a relative chronology, and bringing so many historical people to life – was unparalleled in its demands on my ability. My favorite science fiction book, Outpassage, written with Chris Morris, is my greatest success so far with writing a group of futuristic, strong, heroic and villainous female characters.

My female characters, no more or less than my male characters, speak for themselves, not for a grand plan to redress centuries of perceived grievances, or to be role models for a future of retributive bile, where men and women are retaught their roles, and those roles are precisely the same. If, indeed, Art is the process and Beauty the goal, and if ‘common values’ can still be transferred to future generations through literature, then only reality and its study can yield fantasy worth reading, and making women into men and men into women won’t have my desired result: a book that satisfies me, since I must go first into any adventure I write, and live there. 
2) Have you ever thought of your own fiction as beautiful art?
JEM: My answer is simple: Of course I do. And of course it is valid to consciously strive for greatness in any art-form, and literature most of all, since literature carries our culture forward, gives voice to our inner selves most directly, speaks for us in no uncertain terms to a future yet unformed.  I think of my own work as a search for Art and strive for beauty in every line: for power, lyricism, brutality, mythos and ethos, and I do this by invoking character, not diatribe. 
3) Is Art and Beauty present in classic fantasy?
JEM: Certainly each man’s essays and letters (i.e. from Lovecraft, Howard, Smith, & Poe) reveal their intent to create Art with a level of Beauty in their fiction. Consider these among other writers equally persuaded that they were writing Art with Beauty. The Western Canon, and back to the earliest myths of Gilgamesh, give us fantasy and horror stories with Art and Beauty: since these are ‘literature’, we don’t refer to them as Horror or Fantasy anymore, despite the faeries in Spenser, the witches and ghosts in Shakespeare, the devils and demons in Milton.

Art with a level of Beauty (where Beauty is emotional impact and Art is a process of transcendent composition) does not exist in every piece of fiction, but it exists in many more fictions than today’s pernicious genre-fication would lead one to believe, or the ghetto-izers of literature would prefer. However, look sharp: if the book is really good, people will not call it Horror or Fantasy very long. For instance, is Moby Dick Horrific Fantasy? To me it is. Does Conan carry the flag of fantastical creation forward, and even include the emotional context and kick necessary in Art? Absolutely, although the non-Howard Conan stories written by others so far do not.

If Art is, as Zola famously observed, life seen through a temperament, then Howard’s Conan is Art. The spare prose and raw power of that work stimulated many to try to copy it whole cloth, resulting in a cripplingly limited vision of how Howard emplaces impact that has created a genre of crude imitators. No matter: Conan can take one’s breath away, and replace it with his own. The loaded style of Poe is peerless, in his darkly forsaken world, as much an echo of New England’s own inherent darkness as of the phantasms he evokes. Arthur Conan Doyle observed through the mouth of Sherlock Holmes that: ‘Where there is no imagination, there is no horror.’ Writing fantasy (whether one may become the next Dante or Poe or Homer), or reading it, requires imagination, and creating Art and Beauty is the goal of an informed imagination.

Now, what do we mean by Beauty? The most beautiful line I have ever read is from Hamlet: “And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” In Poe, it’s “Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore! Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore.’” Howard stabs for your heart with his Beauty, evoking a barbarian soul in “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women”, but consider Howard’s “Fire and wind come from the sky, from the gods of the sky. But Crom is your god, Crom and he lives in the earth. Once, giants lived in the earth, Conan. And in the darkness of chaos, they fooled Crom, and they took from him the enigma of steel. Crom was angered. And the Earth shook. Fire and wind struck down these giants, and they threw their bodies into the waters, but in their rage, the gods forgot the secret of steel and left it on the battlefield. We who found it are just men. Not gods. Not giants. Just men. The secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan. You must learn its discipline. For no one – no one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts.” In my own work I can show you my strivings for Art and Beauty more easily, since I know it best: “The chapel is dim, full of the god. So many of Tempus’ own ghosts are here. He bows his head and greets them one by one. Shades and revenants from years gone by crowd in, murmuring like the dead he carries in his heart. A gilded chariot gleams in the chapel’s soft light: a prop for a show he disdains, in these days when it is so hard for him to keep man and god separate, distinct from one another; when so many, many wraiths come with him, walk with him, ride with him from battlefield to battlefield, war to war.” or: “Woe betide the soul who loves too much, wants too much, dares too much. Soon now comes the hour of doom for some, victory for others.”
"Beauty requires that we breathe into our characters a unique view of the human condition, and show how that character experiences and suffers the world around him (her)."  Janet E. Morris - 2013

So where does Art reside, and where Beauty? Art is the process and Beauty the result. These together reside in the totality of thought; in the dark of the soul; in the voice of your Muse and, finally, if you are very lucky, on the page. If you are male or female, and writing fantasy fiction today, are you at an advantage or a disadvantage in the marketplace? The answer should be ‘no,’ but now and previously, may be ‘yes,’ depending on how separate you can keep yourself from political correctness and societal pressure to write trite stereotypes, not characters. Is the first great fantasy writer “J” from the Old Testament? Probably. Harold Bloom thinks “J” was female, and says so. What makes Bloom think so? A lifetime of scholarship. I recommend to you his “The Book of J” so you can find out for yourself. Where does the Art and Beauty reside in the Old Testament? Try the oldest translation you can find of the ‘burning bush’ scene. Homer’s Iliad, the most male of tales, changed the world because Alexander of Macedon considered its treatise on war-fighting so much his inspiration that he carried it with him on campaign. Before the Iliad, the myths of powerful women in Greek, and before them in Hittite and Egyptian and Akkadian mythologies, abounded. After Homer, the age of early male heroes increasingly defined literature, but these heroes were aided and abetted by female goddesses, muses, nereids, all more powerful than the men who served them. Then came the inscription at Delphi: “Keep woman under rule.” Why? Perhaps women sibyls and rulers had abused their men, perhaps the warlord overcame the sorceress. After Constantine and his New Testament redactions, modern patriarchy took hold with a vengeance, eradicating not only the Gnostic Gospel of Mary, but much else that made women and men equally important – in the eyes of literature, at least.

"Today, the writer, be that author male or female, makes a choice, at the outset: to reach for greatness and challenge an audience, or even change them; or to please a common denominator of audience by writing a familiar tale told artlessly. It is rare to attempt both, even rarer to achieve both.
So why try for Art and Beauty, when what most people want is a short, easy read, simple and direct? For some, Art is its own reward, and Beauty brings Art to the life in the mind. Before these art-seeking souls today, a wilderness stretches: many more craftsmen exist than artists, and the good, invariably, is the enemy of the great." Janet E. Morris - 2013






Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Vance's The Dying Earth - Review by S.E.

The Dying EarthThe Dying Earth by Jack Vance, S.E.lindberg rating: 4 of 5 stars

Vance's Prismatic Charm of Beautiful, Untiring Adventure

Review Summary: The Dying Earth, is beautiful, pulpy adventure. It is a series of six connected short tales (chapters), each being a mix of (Sword & Sorcery) and (Sword and Planet)...so consider it (Sword & Sorcery & Planet). And, it is an important classic, first published in 1950; Jack Vance's codification of magic items & spells proved influential in RPG-game design.

Dying Earth Series: Tales of the Dying Earth: The Dying Earth/The Eyes of the Overworld/Cugel's Saga/Rhialto the Marvellous is an omnibus edition of the four novels written by Jack Vance (1916-2013) between 1950 and 1986; the first is simply The Dying Earth, which is itself a collection of six short stories. With the recent passing of Jack Vance (1916-2013), the Sword and Sorcery Group is reflecting on his work this Summer (July-August): The Dying Earth (1950) is the first in the series (the next three in sequence are: (2) The Eyes of the Overworld (1966), (3) Cugel's Saga (1983), (4) Rhialto The Marvellous (1984)).

Codifying Magic - Role Playing Game (RPG)s: Tolkien maybe credited for inspiring "fellowships" of Dwarves, Elves, and Humans to go adventuring (a key trope for RPGs), but his magic-system was never codified well. Some ontology, or approach to classifying, was also needed ...and already provided, actually. Before "Lord of The Rings", Vance delivered The Dying Earth, and seems responsible for providing RPG-franchises with the needed approach: captivating brand names. Vance's Items and Spell titles simply exhibit self-evident credibility : Magic Items such as Expansible Egg, Scintillant Dagger, and Live Boots...and Spells such as Excellent Prismatic Spray, Phandaal's Mantle of Stealth, Call to the Violent Cloud, Charm of Untiring Nourishment. Three decades after The Dying Earth was published, the broader fantasy culture apparently caught on to the branding of spells and magic items (i.e. 1980's Dungeons & Dragons… or even magic-based card games like Pokemon, etc.).

Pace & Style: The title evokes gloomy adventure. The stories follow suit. The poetic, weird narratives will remind readers of predecessor Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961)'s Lost Worlds; the swashbuckling adventure and planetary exploration evoke Vance's contemporary Roger Zelazny (1936-1995)'s The First Chronicles of Amber. Each tale moves at breakneck speed. Often times, within just one page, teleportation will propel the protagonist across multiple planetary systems and vast continents. Actually, the pace is too fast and the stories appear rushed (keeping this from receiving a 5-star rating). Most encounters involve some haggling/negotiating, and some of these lead to sudden brutality:
"Then you may die." And Mazirian caused the creature to revolve at ever greater speeds, faster and faster, until there was only a blur. A strangled wailing came and presently the Deodand's frame parted. The head shot like a bullet far down the glade; arms, legs, viscera flew in a direction." -- Ch2- Mazirian the Magician
The brisk pace belies the serious, philosophical undertones that persist throughout. The milieu does involve the decline of earth, after all, but Vance does not dwell on it. The action is at the forefront, but darkness is continuously dosed. One moment he'll be describing some present urgency, and then he will sneak in a bit of epic, chronic darkness:
"At one famous slaughtering, Golickan Kodek the Conqueror had herded here the populations of two great cities, G'Vasan and Bautiku, constricted them in a circle three miles across, gradually pushed them tighter and tighter, panicked them toward the center within his flapping-armed sub-human cavalry, until at last he had achieved a gigantic, squirming mound, half a thousand feet high, a pyramid of screaming flesh."-- Ch2- Mazirian the Magician
Beauty Theme: The tales share many of the same characters, but each has a different protagonist. The protagonist from the six tale (Guyal) seems to speaks on behalf of the author's muses; he invites readers to consider:
"Where does beauty vanish when it goes?"

Guyal's Father Answers: "Beauty is a luster which love bestows to guile the eye. Therefore it may be said that only when the brain is without love will the eye look and see no beauty." - Story 6- Guyal of Sfere
Vance's work seems genuinely motivated by an appreciation of art and the mourning of lost beauty. He seemed to be following in succession from like-authors. Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft all delved into evoking emotions through their art; they were serious writers who philosophized and wrote essays regarding "Weird Beauty" in literature. The undercurrents of dark muses in literary horror fascinate some (link). Below are excerpts and comments of Beauty's themes in The Dying Earth (per story):

1) Turjan of Mirr: The books opens with a sorcerer trying to create living things. His craft, his art, is "life." He mirrors the plight of Victor Frankenstein:
"[Turjan] considered its many precursors: the thing all eyes, the boneless creature with the pulsing surface of its brain exposed, the beautiful female body whose intestines trailed out into the nutrient solution like seeking fibrils, the inverted inside-out creatures...Turjan sighed bleakly. His methods were at fault; a fundamental element was lacking from his synthesis, a matrix ordering the components of the pattern."

"For some time I have been striving to create humanity in my vats. Yet always I fail, from ignorance of the agent that binds and orders patterns."

"This is no science, this is an art, where equations fall to the elements like resolving chords, and where always prevails a symmetry either explicit or multiplex, but always of a crystalline serenity."
Turjan needed more knowledge to complete his goal. This compels him toward making a woman who appreciates beauty (to compete with another woman who cannot detect beauty).

2) Mazirian the Magician: This chapter has significant overtones of Clark Ashton Smith's Maze of Maal Dweeb, Xiccarph tales (1935, 1930)...in which an alien sorcerer had the "caprice to eternalize the frail beauty of women," maintaining them in a garden. Here, the beautiful T'sain dies to save her maker, Turjan, in a magic-filled chase through an alien sorcerer's garden. This excerpt demonstrates how Vance never ceases to pour out the colors!
"Certain plants swam with changing iridescences; others held up blooms pulsing like sea-anemones, purple, green, lilac, pink, yellow. Here grew trees like feather parasols, trees with transparent trunks threaded with red and yellow veins, trees with foliage like metal foil, each leaf a different metal--copper, silver, blue tantalum, bronze, green iridium. Here blooms like bubbles tugged gently upward from glazed green leaves, there a shrub bore a thousand pipe-shaped blossoms, each whistling softly to make music of the ancient Earth, of the ruby-red sunlight, water seeping through black soil, the languid winds…"
3) T'sais: The titular character, once an antagonist piece-of-art, searches out the ability to see beauty on Earth. As she describes:
"Pandelume created me," continues T'sais, "but there was a flaw in the pattern." And T'sais stared into the fire. "I see the world as a dismal place: all sounds to me are harsh, all living creatures vile, in varying degrees--things of sluggish movement and inward filth. During the first of my life I thought only to trample, crush, destroy. I knew nothing but hate. Then I met my sister T'sain, who is as I without the flaw. She told me of love and beauty and happiness--and I came to Earth seeking those."
Etarr, an ugly companion of T'sais who had his hansom face switched with a demon's, goes with her to witness a Black Sabbath. As they watch the demons congragate, Vance philosophizes:
"Even here is beauty," he whispered. "Weird and grotesque, but a sight to enchant the mind."
4) Laine the Wayfarer : Laine the arrogant magician is challenged to repair a piece of art: Lith's tapestry. Therein is depicted the Magic Valley of Ariventa, but it has been cut in half. Can he restore it?

5) Ulan Dhor: This is a fun piece, with more sci-fi than the others given the reactivation of ruined technology. The artistic elements are less covert here. There are two embattled groups that literally cannot see another. They signify themselves not with classic blazonry...but by simply by color: Green vs. Grays (vs. Reds)!

6)Guyal of Sfere: Guyal's insatiable search for knowing everything leads him on a quest to speak to the Curator of humankind's knowledge. En route, he partakes as a judge in a beauty pageant; here he meets with the maiden Shierl. They go on to explore sacred ruins, battle a demon who consumes beauty, and look upon the treasure trove of beauty, a sanctuary:
"This is the Museum," said Guyal in a rapt tone. "Here there is no danger...He who dwells in beauty of this sort may never be other than beneficent…"
All in all, a recommended read to any sci-fi and fantasy buff, and to any reader who also likes RPGs. Feel welcome to join the discussion (at any time...even if the official group-read time expires):Group-Read Link.

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Inspiring Natural Sculptures: Beautiful, Scary, Sentient?

Dark Beauty

First let us calibrate our expectations when it comes to the face of evil.  We expect scary, bad things to be ugly, right?  Devils are rarely depicted as pleasing to look at.  Conversely, good things, like angels, are beautiful.  Viewer's perception of art is influenced by these expectations.  For instance, many believe that Frazetta's dark fantasy illustrations are full of gore (despite the lack of blood... see Weird, Dark Art Design: Implicit vs. Explicit Gore and Horror). So if your intention is create dark art, then how do you approach the design?  Should your devils appear ugly?  Does the horror have to be embodied in a devil?  What inspires your art (your muse), and how will you choose to represent it?

Weird fiction masters (Poe, Lovecraft, Smith...) documented their intense philosophies about instilling beauty in their weird works (see prior blog post: Dark Muses I: The undercurrent of "Art" in Weird literature).  They viewed their horror works as beautiful art. Can horrific things, evil enemies or works of art, really be full of beauty?  Certainly fantasy fiction requires some type of monstrous element, usually the antagonist force is sentient and ugly (mythological beasts, aliens, orcs, devils, etc.).  Consider the horror otherwise. What if a terrible threat emerged from something we thought of as inanimate and beautiful?

The Terrible Beauty of Kudzu, a Dark Muse

I discovered my favorite beautiful horror ~20yrs ago on a road trip to Georgia (on Route 75); conveying my awe at the yet-to-be-identified vine sculptures I saw en route, my cousins corrected my enthusiasm for the beauty I had witnessed and educated me on the horrors of "kudzu." Imported to increase ground cover in the Southeast, this uncontrollable, evil vine now extends into Ohio.  However, to the ignorant, the sculptures appear as beautiful, continuous green blankets. The ability to create art is considered a critical point in the evolution of man's intelligence. Usually artificial things (items made by man) are discernible from natural ones, and we gain some sense of security knowing the difference.  But what horrors await us if brainless things like vines begin making large-scale sculptures?  If art self-assembles from chaos, should we be awed or terrified?
Kudzu-Sculpture-Route-75
Here is recent photo of Kudzu I took while my wife took a turn driving on our trek from Cincinnati, Ohio to Charleston, South Carolina (again on Route 75, image taken in southern KY...okay, a confession is in order, since I took not one...but hundreds of pictures, being so mesmerized, and distracted her driving).  Not shown here, is the imminent devastation of all the growth serving as a template; in other words, all the hidden trees beneath are being smothered. This beauty is terrible!  My fascination remains solid however.  Kudzu has become one of my dark muses.

For more images formed by Kudzu, I recommend touring JJ Anthony’s site:

Natural Beauty

Incidentally, right before vacation, I finally joined the social community for artists, DeviantArt.com (please visit: http://selindberg.deviantart.com/ :) ). The kudzu imagery is reminiscent of ice sculptures captured by Niccolo Bonfadini, a photographer I "watch/subscribe to" (check his work out (link)...actually, I highly recommend browsing DA if you have not already, it is a great wealth of inspiration and talent).  These ice sculptures are another example of natural elements templating trees, however I believe the vegetation in Finland survives the winter.  Regardless, the apparent self assembly of monoliths is ominous.  They evoke Arthur Clarke's strange monoliths: nicely carved, inanimate, intelligent.  


©2012 *niccolobonfadini 
Finnish Landscape by *niccolobonfadini His caption: During winter, with temperatures ranging from -40 to -15, the trees in some areas of the Finnish Lapland get completely covered by snow and ice. This makes for a unique landscape, where everything is white and frozen as far as the eyes can see. That morning I slept in my tent to watch the sun rise from the top of a hill. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dark Muses II: Creative Forces Driving Science and Art

Note this is Part of a series:

#1) Dark Muses I: The undercurrent of "Art" in Weird literature

#2: Dark Muses II: Creative Forces Driving Science and Art (you are here) 

#3:  Historical Anatomy: Composing Bodies and Representing the Invisible Soul 

#4) Weird, Dark Art Design: Implicit vs. Explicit Gore and Horror
__________________

Scientists and artists have long had inherent faith in their creative processes and the muses that motivate them. Scientists cannot a priori predict their theories for they begin only as mere hypotheses, like unadulterated marble blocks waiting to be carved.  Likewise, art cannot be described genuinely before its creation.  By testing hypotheses, theories emerge; by sculpting marble blocks, statues are birthed.  Artists are guided by creative forces; ultimately, art (not the artist) must reveal and represent itself.  As one works paint on a canvas, muses participate, the artist becoming an instrument and medium of sorts.

Although the Red Muse of Lords of Dyscrasia is fictional, I do rely on real muses for inspiration.  I generally subscribe to the philosophy of agnosticism, a term coined in 1869 by Thomas Henry Huxley who was an ardent supporter of his contemporary's theory of evolution (Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, 1859).   In his primer book on science, Huxley expounded on nature's inherent sourcing of man's art:

Thomas Huxley (1825-1895)
Although this distinction between nature and art, between natural and artificial things, is very easily made and very convenient, it is needful top remember that, in the long run, we owe everything to nature; that even those artificial objects which we commonly say are made by men, are only natural objects shaped and moved by men; and that, in the sense of creating, that is to say of causing something to exist which did not exist in some other shape before, man can make nothing whatever...Carpenters, builders, shoemakers, and all other artisans and artists, are persons who have learned so much of the powers and properties of certain natural objects, and of the chain of causes and effects in nature, as enables them to shape and put together those natural objects, so as to be useful to man (Huxley 1888) i
The difference between artist and scientist was once more obscure than today.  The processes of exploring the unknown via art or science are different but the methodologies share the same motivating source and subject.   For me, scientific and artistic muses connect the naturally divine to the artificially materialistic; practicing creative processes brings comfort, satisfaction, and revelation of life's mysteries; following creative muses is enlightening.  Along these lines, I have long been a resolute agnostic, refusing to arbitrarily ascribe a name, face, or religion to all that is incomprehensible (read god), but as scientist and artist, I do have a faith using creative processes to connect with the ineffable.   

The creative Muse assumed an essential role in Lords of Dyscrasia, albeit a broader inspiration than that revealed in Greek mythology; as the Muse's primary curator, Grave does echo the role of Hephaestus the smith and Endenken Lysis assumes the role of Prometheus, antagonizing the gods and procuring their fire; and Maeve is not unlike Pandora, a beautiful harbinger of pain and pawn of the gods, crafted out of earthly elements by the smith Hephaestus.  So it is appropriate to investigate the inspiration behind the gothic classic The Modern Prometheus (1818) in which Mary Bryce Shelly, guided by muses, grappled with the themes of Science, Art, and Spirit.   Her character Victor Frankenstein, the infamous artist and scientist, pieced together materials from cemeteries to create life via alchemy.  In her prologue, she described how her muse worked though her:


My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw-with shut eyes, but acute mental vision-I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together.  I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion.   Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.  His success would terrify the artist...ii
In a correspondence to his friend and contemporary author, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Ervin Howard (1906-1936) explained his interaction with the muse that inspired his Conan yarns.  Howard is often credited with being the originator of today's Sword & Sorcery genre with his characters: Conan the Barbarian, King Kull, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn.  In December 1933, Howard wrote to Smith about his Conan muse:
 
Gary Gianni's Looming Dark Man (Muse, Bran Mak Morn)
 'While I don't go so far as to believe that stories are inspired by actually existing spirits or powers, though I am rather opposed to flatly denying anything, I have sometimes wondered if it were possible that unrecognized forces of the past or present--or even the future--work through the thought and actions of living men.

'This occurred to me when I was writing the first stories of the Conan series especially. I know that for months I had been absolutely barren of ideas, completely unable to work up anything sellable. Then the man Conan seemed to grow up in my mind without much labor on my part and immediately a stream of stories flowed off my pen--or rather off my typewriter--almost without effort on my part. I did not seem to be creating, but rather relating events that had occurred. Episode crowded upon episode so fast that I could scarcely keep up with them.
'For weeks I did nothing but write of the adventures of Conan. The character took complete possession of my mind and crowded out everything else in the way of story-writing. When I deliberately tried to write something else, I couldn't do it.
'I do not attempt to explain this by esoteric or occult means, but the facts remain. I still write of Conan more powerfully and with more understanding than any of my other characters. But the time will probably come when I will suddenly find myself unable to write convincingly of him at all. This has happened in the past with nearly all my rather numerous characters; suddenly I find myself out of contact with the conception, as if the man himself had been standing at my shoulder directing my efforts, and had suddenly turned and gone away, leaving me to search for another character.' iii
So where do muses lead us?  In fairy tales, the ignis fatuous (a.k.a. will-o'-the-wisp, fool's fire, jack-o-lantern, or corpse candle) is a  luminous, nondescript light that hovers over wetlands and obscures forest paths.  These lights are thought to trick people into hellish traps or endless, foolish journeys.   In Lords of Dyscrasia, I liken the role of the ignis fatuous to that of fiery muses rather than evil temptations.  I acknowledge a longstanding fascination with Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydian and his deathless, zombie soldiers the Cauldron Born who served Arawn Death-Lord.  The Cauldron Born zombies were based from the magical Cauldron of Arawn mentioned within the Welsh medieval manuscripts the Mabinogion; therein, fallen soldiers could be cast into the pot to be fully rejuvenated.

The idea of cooking with souls and men, giving life back to the dead (whether fully sentient or zombie like) builds on the themes of alchemy and the link between body, soul.  This recipe for resurrection transmutes the soul from the unreachable chaos back into earthly elements.  For Lords of Dyscrasia, the Forge assumed the role of a magical cauldron but with a more direct link to artistry; the notion that the magical fire responsible for the forge's power may be a mobile fire was very exciting to me; a dead man could be placed into a forge, be rejuvenated by its fire, and then leave the vessel an undead man with the magical fire still burning him!  This symbolism has roots in mysticism, as the divine fifth element as been described as an astral fire, with roots in alchemy; here Alexander Roob summarizes this in his Alchemy and Mysticism:
It is said of the philosopher and thaumaturge Empedocles that he claimed the existence of two suns.  The hermetic doctrines also include a double sun, and distinguish between a bright spirit-sun, the philosophical gold, and the dark natural sun, corresponding to material gold.  The former consists of the essential fire that is conjoined with the ether of the 'glowing air'.  The idea of the vivifying fire - Heraclitus (6th century B.C.) calls it 'artistic' fire running through all things - is a legacy of Persian magic.  Its invisible effect supposedly distinguishes the Work of the alchemists from that of the profane chemists.  The natural sun, however, consists of the known, consuming fire, whose precisely dosed use also determines the success of the enterprise.iv

i Huxley, T. H. (1888). Introductory, Science Primers. New York, D. Appleton and Company. p8-9
ii Shelley, M., Ed (1993). Frankenstein 1818 Text. Oxford World's Classics. New York, N.Y., Oxford University Press.
iii Lord, G. (1976). The Last Celt: A Bio-Bibliography of Robert Ervin Howard. Hampton Falls, NH, Donald M. Grant Publisher, Inc., p57
iv Roob, A. (2006). Alchemy & Mysticism. Los Angeles, C.A., Taschen Press. p25

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dark Muses I: The undercurrent of "Art" in Weird literature

Note this is Part of a series:

#1) Dark Muses I: The undercurrent of "Art" in Weird literature (you are here) 

#2: Dark Muses II: Creative Forces Driving Science and Art

#3:  Historical Anatomy: Composing Bodies and Representing the Invisible Soul

#4) Weird, Dark Art Design: Implicit vs. Explicit Gore and Horror
_______________________________

Muses lead us to produce art that conveys beauty; but what is 'beautiful' in weird art?   Howard, Smith, and Lovecraft wrote many letters to each other discussing their weird works and their place in literature.  Like Poe, they also published topical essays on the role of the weird in literature.  Composing alone and exploring the dark still allows for the need to commune and share.  These artists had a passionate desire to uphold and employ literary styles; short stories and poems were their primary medium; not the novel or trilogy productions that predominate today.

Over the decades, many of these letters were published in periodicals and books, and they are generally still accessible today via reprints and used booksellers.  By seeking guidance on composing this weird work, I found solace (and challenges posed) by investigating how these 'weird' fantasy writers mused about Death (Soul) , Beauty (Muses), and Alchemy (Science).  I include a section on Edgar Allen Poe, who inspired and preceded the others.  As with Howard, their personal philosophies are visibly demonstrated in their fictional work.  Their quotes reveal the goals, credibility, and character of weird writing.

Harry Clarke - Masque of Red Death
In his 1846 essay Philosophy of Composition (available on-line), Poe reminds us, that as artists, we must do more than imitate.  We must uniquely evoke emotion in our souls:
Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term Art, I should call it 'the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul.' The mere imitation, however accurate, of what is in Nature, entitles no man to the sacred name of 'Artist.' i
The notion that the soul is best tapped via the senses is rampant in alchemical history, as Leonardo Da Vinci's notes on becoming a painter are often quoted, "The eye, which is called the window of the soul, is the principal means by which the central sense can most completely and abundantly appreciate the infinite works of nature."   But is this path via our senses one that the soul can reversibly traverse?  Poe addressed this notion his 1842 short story Oval Portrait, as a soul is literally drawn out of a subject and transported into a portrait, killing the former:
Turning to the number in which designated the oval portrait, I there read the vague and quaint words which follow: "She was the maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee.  And evil was the hour when she saw, and loved, and wedded the painter.  He, passionate, studious, austere, and having already a bride in his Art; she a maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee; all light and smiles, and frolicsome as the young fawn: loving and cherishing all things: hating only the Art which was her rival: dreading only the palette and brushes and other untoward instruments which deprived her of the countenance of her lover. ii
Weird literature appears obsessed with this goal of transmuting intangible spirits into objects of art.  In a letter to pulp fiction writer E. Hoffman Price, Lovecraft succinctly defined the nature and purpose of the weird artist/writer in terms all too similar to that of alchemist vocabulary:
The genuine artist in the weird is trying to crystallize in at least semi-tangible form one of several typical and indefinite moods unquestionably natural to human beings, and in some individuals very profound, permanent, and intense...moods involving the habitual lure and terror and imagination-stirring qualities of the unknown or half-known, the burning curiosity of the active mind concerning the fathomless abysses of inaccessible space which press in on us from every side, and the instinctive revolt of the restless ego against the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law.  When a writer succeeds in translating these nebulous urges into symbols which in some way satisfy the imagination-symbols which adroitly suggest actual glimpses into forbidden dimensions, actual happenings following the myth-patterns of human fancy, actual voyages of thought or body into the nameless deeps of tantalizing space, and actual evasions, frustrations, or violations of the commonly accepted laws of the cosmos-then he is a true artist in every sense of the word.  He has produced genuine literature by accomplishing a sincere emotional catharsis.iii
In other words, the goal of the weird writer is to transmute the ineffable into a digestible symbol for the curious to consume, even if it scares them!  Lovecraft wrote an essay on how to write weird fiction called simply Notes On Writing Weird Fiction (available on-line), in which he also reveals his motivations (this was published post humorously and is now readily available on the internet):
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 forever 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.iv
 
Goya's Saturn Devouring Son
In line with making fantasy real, he posits his real beliefs within his fiction! Hence he holds his fictional artists to outlandish criteria and immerses them in absolute terrible circumstances. Below, the narrator from Pickman's Model (1927) reflects Lovecraft's literary opinions:
 "You know it takes profound art and profound insight to turn out stuff like Pickman's.  Any magazine-cover hack can splash paint around wildly and call it a nightmare or a Witch's Sabbath or a portrait of the devil, but only a great painter can make such a thing really scare or ring true.  That's because only a real artist knows the actual anatomy of the terrible or the physiology of fear - the exact sort of lines and proportions that connect up with latent instincts or hereditary memories of fright, and the proper colour contrasts and lighting effects to stir the dormant sense of strangeness" v

"You know, in ordinary art, there's all the difference in the world between the vital, breathing things drawn from Nature or models and the artificial truck that commercial small fry reel off in a bare studio by rule.  Well, I should say the really weird artist has a kind of vision which makes models, or summons up what amounts to actual scenes from the spectral world he lives in." vi
Likewise, Howard funneled his views of weird art though his characters.  For instance, in The House in the Oaks (a story posthumously finished by August Derleth). Howard uses the artist Humphrey Skyler to speak on his behalf (this section was written by Howard):
The effect of horror is best gained when the sensation is most intangible.  To put the horror in visible shape, no matter how gibbous or mistily, is to lessen the effect.  I paint an ordinary tumble-down farmhouse with the hint of a ghastly face at a window; but this house-this house-needs no such mummery or charlatanry; it exudes an aura of abnormality-that is, to a man sensitive to such impression.vii
 In fact his contemporary Clark Ashton Smith (1893- 1961) agreed.  Of these authors, Smith was the most eclectic in craft, being also an illustrator, sculptor and poet.  In an October 24th 1930 letter to Lovecraft he described his strategy of using aesthetics to heighten the reading experience of his weird works: 
My own conscious ideal has been to delude the reader into accepting an impossibility, or series of impossibilities, by means of a sort of verbal black magic, in the achievement of which I make use of prose-rhythm, metaphor, simile, tone-color, counter-point, and other stylistic resources, like a sort of incantation. You attain a black magic, perhaps unconsciously, in your pursuit of corroborative detail and verisimilitude. But I fear that I don't always attain verisimilitude in my pursuit of magic! However, I sometimes suspect that the wholly unconscious elements in writing (or other art) are by far the most important viii

Smith's Genuis Loci
In his 1948 story Genius Loci, an artist, Amberville, turns mad when he paints a landscape that happens to embody the effigy of the land's deceased owner, Chapman.  Here Amberville's art is described by the narrator to have captured the evil soul of the landscape:
I examined the drawings attentively.  Both, though of hurried execution, were highly meritorious, and showed the characteristic grace and vigour of Amberville's style.  And yet, even at first glance, I found a quality that was more alien to the spirit of his work.  The elements of the scene were those he had described. In one picture, the pool was half hidden by a fringe of mace-weeds, and the dead willow was leaning across it at a prone, despondent angle, as if mysteriously arrested in its fall towards the stagnant waters.  Beyond, the alders seemed to strain away from the pool, exposing their knotted roots as if in eternal effort.  In the other drawing, the pool formed the main portion of the foreground, with the skeleton tree looming drearily at one side.  At the water's farther end, the cat-tails seemed to wave and whisper among themselves in a dying wind; and the steeply barring slope of pine at the meadow's terminus was indicated as a wall of gloomy green that closed in the picture, leaving only a pale of autumnal sky at the top. ix
From Clark Ashton Smith's awesomely dark Zothique yarns, he overtly expressed his personal views as poetically.  In his 1934 short story The Weaver in the Vault, his character Grotara is last surviving of a three member party commissioned to explore distant ruins to retrieve the remains of a mummy; below, Grotora dies by the evil, but beautiful, force of the aesthetic Weaver:
He could not tell the duration of the weaving, the term of his enthrallment.  Dimly, at last, he beheld the thinning of the luminous threads, the retraction of the trembling arabesques.  The globe, a thing of evil beauty, alive and aware in some holocryptic fashion, had risen now from the empty armor of Yanur.  Diminishing to its former size, and putting off its colors of blood and opal, it hung for a little while above the chasm...After that, there were ages of fever, thirst and madness, of torment and slumber, and recurrent struggling against the massive block that held him prisoner.  He babbled insanely, he howled like a wolf; or, lying supine and silent, he heard the multitudinous, muttering voices of ghouls that conspired against him.  Gangrening swiftly, his crushed extremities seemed to throb like those of a Titan.  He drew his sword with the strength of delirium, and endeavored to saw himself free at the shins, only to swoon from loss of blood. x
Edgar Allen Poe (1809 - 1849) subscribed to evoking melancholy to stimulate 'Beauty'; this instead of fear.  In his 1846 Philosophy of Composition, Poe revealed his views on experiential beauty by detailing the deliberate construction of his poem The Raven:
Regarding then, Beauty as my province, my next question referred to the tone of its highest manifestation-and all experience has shown that this tone is one of sadness.  Beauty of whatever kind in its supreme development invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.  Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones... xi
However, any excited emotion in the reader might also signify a successful piece of beauty; even if fear is secondary to melancholy.   Poe indicates this in his "The Masque of the Red Death" in which he describes the architecture plan of a seven roomed palace, hermetically sealed from a plagued town, each room decorated like a splotch of oil paint upon an artist's palette.  This story affected me greatly as I designed the Red Shade.  Poe's gothic writing is so fluid as to be more poem than prose, more painting than poem, and he confidently marks the point when he succeeds in making the guests tremble.  As the strangely masked, unknown visitor interrupted the party:
...there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise-then, finally, of terror, of horror, and disgust.  In an assembly of the phantasms such I have painted, it may well be supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation... xii
i Poe, E. A. (1956). The Philosophy of Composition, Selected Writings of Edgar Allen Poe. Boston, M.A., The Riverside Press Cambridge.  p452-464
ii Poe, E. A. (1956). The Oval Portrait, Selected Writings of Edgar Allen Poe. Boston, M.A., The Riverside Press Cambridge. p171
iii Schultz, D. E. (1991). An Epicure in the Terrible : A Centennial Anthology of Essays in Honor of H.P. Lovecraft (Hardcover). Madison, New Jersey, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (July 1991) p 216
iv Lovecraft, H. P. (1937). Notes On Writing Weird Fiction. Amateur Correspondent
v Lovecraft, H. P. (1927). Pickman's Model. Weird Tales.
vi Lovecraft, H. P. (1927). Pickman's Model. Weird Tales.
vii Howard, R. E. (2001). The House In The Oaks, Nameless Cults. Oakland, CA, Chaosim Publications. P168. 
viii Behrends, S. E. (1987). Clark Ashton Smith: Letters to H.P. Lovecraft West Warwick, RI, Necronomicon Press.
ix Smith, C. A. (1948). Genius Loci and Other Tales, Arkham House.
x Smith, C. A. (1995). Weaver in the Vault, Tales of Zothique. West Warrick, RI, Necronomicon Press. p86.
xi Poe, E. A. (1956). The Philosophy of Composition, Selected Writings of Edgar Allen Poe. Boston, M.A., The Riverside Press Cambridge, p452-464
xii  Poe, E. A. (1956). The Masque of the Red Death, Selected Writings of Edgar Allen Poe. Boston, M.A., The Riverside Press Cambridge.  p174
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