Monday, September 3, 2018

Darrell Schweitzer - Interview by SE

SE Lindberg Intro: It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque/weird, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven my strange muses.  This interview series engages contemporary authors & artists on the theme of "Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction."  Recently we cornered weird fantasy authors like John R. Fultz, Janeen Webb, Aliya Whiteley, and Richard Lee ByersToday we hear from the legendary author and editor of weird fiction, Darrell Schweitzer!

Darrell Schweitzer is an American writer, editor, and essayist in the field of speculative fiction. Much of his focus has been on dark fantasy and horror, although he does also work in science fiction and fantasy. Schweitzer is also a prolific writer of literary criticism and editor of collections of essays on various writers within his preferred genres. Together with his editorial colleagues Schweitzer won the 1992 World Fantasy Award special award in the professional category for Weird Tales. His poem Remembering the Future won the 2006 Asimov's Science Fiction's Readers' Award for best poem. His novels include The White Isle, The Shattered Goddess, The Mask of the Sorcerer, and The Dragon House. His most recent story collection is the explicitly Lovecraftian Awaiting Strange Gods published by Fedogan & Bremer. He has also been known to lead the choir at Cthulhu Prayer Breakfasts, where his The Innsmouth Tabernacle Choir is used. He has published books about H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Lord Dunsany.

SEL: What Beauty is there in horror and sadness? Edgar Allen Poe subscribed to evoking melancholy to stimulate 'Beauty'.  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. In “Windows of the Imagination” you interview Poe, through dubious means. So we must turn the tables. Paraphrasing from you, “Which do you prefer writing [poems for Beauty, or tales for Terror]?” More broadly, how do you define Beauty in art/fiction that appears to be repulsive (weird/horror/melancholy)?

DS:
If I am to make a guess in the case of Poe (who, being dead, was not as entirely revealing as you might want in my interview with him), the beauty of horror does indeed have to do with sadness and loss. It is a reflection on the inevitable passing away of all things. Poe was the guy who said that the most poetical subject in the world is the death of a beautiful woman, and I don’t think he was into necrophilia. You can see this in his life. He knew his wife was dying. Various other beloved figures in his life kept dying on him. He knew that his own stay on this mortal coil was always tenuous.

SEL:   Do you find beauty in your weird fiction? Dissect an example. 
DS: This seems a little pretentious. It is a “look how great I am” question. The time-loops & their links to innocence and youth in “The Sorcerer Evoragdu”? The dancing resurrected goddess at the end of The Shattered Goddess? The strange redemption at the end of “On the Last Night of the Festival of the Dead”?

SEL: What scares you? Is it beautiful?
DS: I think we are all scared of death and the loss of identity or mental acuity. In real life, it is NOT beautiful. There is no “City of the Singing Flame” in the mundane world.

SEL: Art vs. the Artist: Is there a character that you most empathize with or reflects you (i.e., Julian the Apostate or Sekenre the Sorcerer)?
DS: I am neither of these persons. Julian the Apostate (the knight, not the emperor) is a lost soul precisely because he still has his faith. If you do not believe in God and the Devil, you do not fear them. Sekenre the sorcerer is the kid that never grows up, and always feels left out of normal society. There are some advantages to this, such as long life, but I think his existence involves much loneliness and suffering. I think of him as a cross between Joseph Curwen and Peter Pan. His agenda, however, is not, unlike Curwen’s, evil. He has expressed an intention to survive until the end of time and demand of the gods the reason for the world’s pain.

Have I ever written myself into a story? Not really. I can see how, if I had not somehow managed to face the world, I could have ended up like the character in “Jason, Come Home,” but he is a very sad and unfulfilled fellow, is he not? There is a little of me in the comic artist in “Pennies from Hell,” but this is caricature. Also, that other guy draws better than I do. I do pick up pennies off the street, but not for purposes of occult divination. After a certain age you do it because you STILL CAN. Also, I am superstitious. I believe it is bad luck to leave money lying around when I could have it.

SEL: Regarding other, Dark Arts: Clark Ashton Smith, whose soul or muses seem to have corrupted your own, was a poet, illustrator, and sculptor. Do you practice other arts? If so can we share them (i.e., images of fine or graphic art) or mp3s/videos (of music). Likewise, can you discuss how art can from one medium can inform/inspire another? 
DS: I have been known to draw cartoons. I suppose with some art training I could be mediocre. There is some talent there, but I think that as a cartoonist I am a pretty good gag writer. See attached. 


Art by Darrell Schweitzer [Sidebar: Wilbur Whateley is a character in Lovecraft’s 1923 The Dunwich Horror]
SEL: Cadence in fiction. In a 1930 letter to Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith 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.” What tips or tricks can you reveal about delivering the right cadence to affect beauty or horror? 
DS: I have a theory that some of the best and most “poetic” prose writers – Lovecraft or Dunsany for instance – have the impulse to write poetry but not quite enough talent. So it is sublimated into their prose. Lovecraft held that the rhythm or cadence was the most important aspect of prose. Indeed, prose is for the ear, to be read aloud. The ultimate example may be the last few lines of Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” which is both hideous and exquisite at the same time. Poe of course had the full poetic talent, but also could do it in prose.

SEL: Unpublished Conan and Inspiration: What Makes A Genuine Muse (inspired by your essay “My Career As A Hack Writer” in the collection Windows of the Imagination)? Many do not know that you wrote Conan the Deliverer (not a midwife, but perhaps a milkman you jest in your essay) which was never published. It was to be the “definitive Stygian novel.” I’m not sure of the chronology, but you certainly wrote some beautiful-weird-adventure with Egyptian (a.k.a. Stygian) influences (Mask of the Sorcerer and Sekenre) and proved yourself capable of damn good heroic tales (We Are All Legends). On the surface, having you script Conan the Deliverer sounds awesome. But you reveal that the script was perfect, and it was because of the artistic inspiration (or lack thereof). Please explain more. What makes a quality muse?
DS: A quality muse is one that inspires you to create works of genius all the time. One can only wish to have one … The Mask of the Sorcerer was indeed written on the rebound from the failed Conan novel. I simply let go of all the restrictions of trying to write a Conan novel, the first of which was to dispense with the character of Conan or anyone like him. My Conan novel did indeed deal with a descent into the Stygian afterworld, but the details are very different. I have to admit that this many years later, I do not remember Conan the Deliverer very clearly. That may be a sign that it was not, ultimately, very successful. Tor Books still owns it. They paid for it. They could publish it if they like. It used to be that about every five or ten years I would mention this to someone from Tor and they would say, “Oh, I never knew this existed,” and I would send a copy to them, and then they would lose it again and a few years later the subject would come up again. The last time this happened, I photocopied it for them and they did not bother to reply.

SEL: You have a B.S. in geography and an M.A. in English; has the geography ever served your writing? If not your degree, then perhaps the geography of your person [I was honored to listen to you read “Girl in the attic” the World Fantasy Convention 2016, a story that was published in Black Wings VI S. T. Joshi.  I recall the imagery of the Pocono ridge lines pretty well.]  Was this inspired by time spent in PA? Actually, this line of interrogation reminds me of my favorite CAS tale, “Genius Loci”. How does “place” affect one’s art?
DS: It does make me a little more aware of other places, but then so does collecting stamps. I am not one of those Americans who has only heard of a country when we have gone to war with it. I know where Kazakhstan is. Otherwise my getting a degree in Geography was a na├»ve attempt to do something practical so I could make a living while writing. But as with all the sciences, I could not proceed very far because I couldn’t do the math.

The Pocono ridge lines in the stories are inspired by long drives to Niagara Falls. I used to be a regular at Eeriecon, and I drove up that way alone many times after my wife stopped doing. You do notice on such trips how the familiar and safe world is only along the roadway, and eldritch rites or hideous murders could be taking place a half a mile away into the forest and no one might ever know. That whole landscape has inspired the Chorazin series of stories, of which “The Girl in the Attic,” and also my YA novel The Dragon House. Chorazin is located in the “flyover” part of north, central Pennsylvania, which is pretty blank on the map. Go to the Poconos, turn left, and go beyond any of the towns or resorts, and there is … what? Any large state in America holds such mystery. It is quite different from Europe, particularly Britain, where if there is a clump of more than two or three trees, it probably has a name, a hereditary forester, and a record in the Domesday Book. We have a lot of empty land.

The landscape of Arizona and the area around the Grand Canyon inspired my “Howling in the Dark.” So, yes, I do respond to landscapes. In the southwest there is vastness of both landscape and sky, and the realization that everything around you is also mutable. An Arizona landscape may be dry, but it is shaped almost entirely by water. You can also look out over the Grand Canyon and realize that among those hundreds of spires you can see are places where, very likely, no human being has ever been, so if Lovecraft’s Great Race of Yith is still hiding on one of them, as long as they don’t shoot off fireworks or play their boom boxes too loudly, we might never know.

SEL: Any current or future endeavor we can pitch?
DS: Latest novel is The Dragon House (Wildside). Latest collection is Awaiting Strange Gods (Fedogan & Bremer). PS Publishing will publish a Best of DS in two volumes next year. I am also working on two anthologies for them, The Mountains of Madness Revealed and Shadows Out of Time. My most recent anthology (for PS) was Tales from the Miskatonic University Library co-edited with John Ashmead.

SEL: Any new callings from the Church of Dagon?
DS: Funny you should ask. The spirit moved me to testify at the last Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast at Necronomicon 2017. I spoke briefly on the fact that the Esoteric Order of Dagon is the only nihilistic doomsday cult with a positive message. The text of my remarks was published in Audient Void magazine recently (No. 5), and will be used as a kind of preface for the second volume of The Innsmouth Tabernacle Choir Hymnal. I write a new hymn for every prayer breakfast. Last time it was “Great Old Ones” to the tune of “Kumbaya.” There are now four uncollected hymns. I need to write three or four more, and I can have another booklet. I don’t just want to do a revised, expanded version, because that would render the old one obsolete and I want to go on selling it too. It is good cultist relations too. No one wants to be told that what I sold you last year is now out of date, so you have to buy a new one. I want your money, but I’d rather let you keep the value of your previous investment while I empty your wallet with the new one. So, I hope to have Volume II available at Necronomicon 2019. Come and sing along!

Partly squamously, partly rugosely, Darrell Schweitzer (a.k.a. “Brother Darrell” in the Esoteric Order of Dagon).


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Helen's Daimones - paperback Giveaway 2018




In the US? Enter to win 1 of 15 signed paperbacks  of Helen's Daimones!

Promotion lasts from Sept -1st to Oct-1st 2018



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Helen's Daimones by S.E. Lindberg

Helen's Daimones

by S.E. Lindberg

Giveaway ends October 01, 2018.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
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Friday, August 31, 2018

Historical Anatomy: Composing Bodies and Representing the Invisible Soul

Note this is Part of a series:



#3:  Historical Anatomy: Composing Bodies and Representing the Invisible Soul (you are here) 

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

Historical Anatomy: Composing Bodies and Representing the Invisible Soul
Sixteenth century apothecaries sourced both medicine to physicians and raw materials to artists; the former treating souls with medicine, the latter manufacturing their own paint so they could portray the divine (as there were no art supply stores then, nor industrial means to mass produce it).   Artists, alchemists, and early physicians would also convene within the dissection chambers.  Anatomical artists had to grapple with documenting macabre scenes of opened bodies while remaining 'artistic'.  For the dignity of the specimens and to satisfy the surgeons' needs, artists often found harmony by posing their subjects.  Many artists captured or imparted a bit of the lost soul into their dead subjects.  Perhaps most famous are Johannes de Ketham's Fasiculo de Medicina (1491), Andreas Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543), and Leonardo Da Vinci's notebooks (~ 1452-1519).   Recent compilations like The Quick and the Dead and Spectacular Bodies ii are fantastic resources on this subject.
 
The prevailing Church did not permit the dissection of innocent believers, so criminals or 'sinners' were often used.  Then, the notion of the four humors prevailed.  Bodies were considered divinely sacred and were thus difficult to obtain and dissect; those corpses deemed acceptable could not be refrigerated, so one had to work fast!  Nor were there cameras or video to capture the observations!  Artists and alchemists partnered to explore, and document the microcosm of life.  Leonardo Da Vinci provided detailed notes along with his drawings:

"I have dissected more than ten human bodies, destroying all the various members and removing the minutest particles of flesh which surrounded these veins, without causing any effusion of blood other than the imperceptible bleeding of the capillary veins.  And as one single body did not suffice for so long a time, it was necessary to proceed in stages with so many bodies as would render my knowledge complete; this I repeated twice in order to discover the differences.  And though you should have a love for such things you may perhaps be deterred by natural repugnance, and if this does not prevent you, you may perhaps be deterred by fear of passing the night hours in the company of these corpses, quartered and flayed and horrible to behold; and if this does not deter you, then perhaps you may lack the skill in drawing, essential for such representation; and if you had the skill in drawing, it may not be combined with the knowledge of perspective; and if it so combined you may not understand the methods of geometrical demonstration and the method of estimating the forces and strength of muscle; or perhaps you may be wanting in patience so that you will not be diligent." iii
How brutally, and beautifully, clear he was in describing what was necessary to follow his muse.   Corpses were given personality, soul if you will, through artificial poses and theatrical, emotional countenances.  Da Vinci determined through his dissections that the senses were linked to a 'common sense' that led to the brain.  But no actual soul was discovered. He yielded the goal of managing the soul to religion.   Below, from his treatise on painting, he spoke how the artist must deal with this and impart the soul into its subjects otherwise:
"A good painter has two chief objects to paint, man and the intention of his soul; the former is easy, the later hard because he has to represent it by the attitudes and movements of the limbs. "iv 

Interactive Book Link
With the most promising connection to our souls being the senses, it follows that the next great promise of discovery came when the technology of optics allowed scientists to see, and draw, new worlds.  Astronomers were anxious to probe the heavens and documented the heavens; for instance, Galileo's Starry Messenger (1610).  Pioneering microscopists had to capture their views with pen and parchment.   In 1664, Robert Hooke published a large treatise entitled Micrographia, containing an encyclopedia of detailed drawings of his microscopic views.   To have these reproduced in print, each drawing had to be converted into an engraving!  From this, Hooke is credited for coining the word 'cell' to describe the pores in cork.   In his preface, he explains to the reader that optics have enabled a spiritual quest:

The next care to be taken, in respect of the senses, is a supplying of their infirmities with instruments, and, as it were, the adding of artificial organs to the natural; this in one of them has been of late years accomplished with prodigious benefit to all sorts of useful knowledge, by the invention of optical glasses.  By the means of telescopes, there is nothing so far distant but may be represented to our view; and by the help of microscopes, there is nothing so small, as to escape our inquiry; hence there is a new visible world discovered to the understanding.  By this means the heavens are opened, and a vast number of new stars, and new motions, and new productions appear in them, to which all the ancient astronomers were utterly strangers.  v
There are two key points: one, the spiritual creative process occurs when artistry, science, and spiritualism coincide; and two, the soul has never found.  Despite how far we see into space with telescopes, or how well we resolve structures with microscopes, the soul still eludes us.  

Ernest Haeckel (1834-1919) was a famous artist-scientist fascinated with the aesthetics of nature and the elusiveness of the soul.  His 1904 set of lithographs Art Forms in Naturevi  brilliantly exhibit his obsession with the symmetrical beauty of biological microstructures, and his extensions into comparative embryology brought him controversy.   He argued this in his support of his own monistic religion that scientific adventures continually uncovered the beautiful designs inherent in nature (monism generally supports that "body and soul" are one connected entity, not separate as many dualistic religions profess):

The remarkable expansion of our knowledge of nature, and the discovery of countless beautiful forms of life, which it includes, have awakened quite a new aesthetic sense in our generation, and thus given a new tone to painting and sculpture.  Numerous scientific voyages and expeditions for the exploration of unknown lands and seas, partly in earlier centuries, but more especially in the nineteenth, have  brought to light an undreamed abundance of new organic forms...affording an entirely new inspiration for painting, sculpture, architecture, and technical art.  vii

In 1900, Haeckel published his scientific, spiritual book Riddle of the Universe at the Close of the Nineteenth Century in which he explains his monistic philosophies.  Within this he has elegant discussions about the soul's lack of participation in the "Laws of Substance" (conservation of mass and energy); below, he discusses how many related the nonexistent soul to that which is tangible:
Thus invisibility comes to be regarded as a most important attribute of the soul.  Some, in fact, compare the soul with ether, and regard it, like ether, as an extremely subtle, light, and highly elastic material, an imponderable agency, that fills the intervals between the ponderable particles in the living organism, other compare the soul with the wind, and so give it a gaseous nature; and it is this simile which first found favor with the primitive peoples, and led in time to the familiar dualistic conception.  When a man died, the body remained as a lifeless corpse, but the immortal soul "flew out of it with the last breath." viii
Many beautiful rituals evolved since souls could not be truly located or measured after a body died; many myths persist that cannot be readily falsified.  The notion of relics is common across cultures and time. It assumes that the soul is a contagion remaining attached to the body postmortem.  Hence, the power of a Saint could be absorbed if one obtained his or her bones; this gave rise to the theft and desecration of many crypts and catacombs.  Many crypts remain with the bodily relics are on display:  the crypt of Saint Munditia of Munich and the Vienna Imperial Crypts are fine examples.

More bizarre, and beautiful, is the notion that souls could be deified by creating architecture with the bones of the deceased.  Here the artist would convene with the spiritualist in a funerary chamber and temple.  Famous examples include: the shrines of Capuchin monks in Rome and Palermo, Sicily (these catacombs contain 6,000 to 8,000 bodies); and the Kostnice 'Church of Bones, Kutna Hora, Sedlec Ossuary, Prague, (containing remains of forty thousand people); lastly, the impressive catacombs of Paris (l'Ossuaire Municipal) in which several condemned cemeteries were collocated in the 18th century and countless skulls comprise the walls.  
If one can make architecture from our bodies, can one make pigments or paint from them?  Organic matter played a strong role in the history of art technology.  Parchment, vellum, was manufactured from the hides of animals before wood based paper was available.  Size, a gluey substance used to prepare surfaces or harden gesso, was made from boiling skin and bone.  Many medieval pigments were iron based (blue, red, black iron oxides) or were derived from living material (dried blood, sintered black bone, and many binders were protein based (milk casein, egg yolk).   Calcined bone is used as a white pigment.  Gallstones were sometimes used as a source of yellow color in the Middle ages.  Bile was used for some greens.  Caput mortem was a mysterious pigment that may have been just iron oxide or, if the ghoulish rumors are true, powder from pulverized mummies.

If the sourcing of material was a spiritual motivation of alchemical artists, as the Mappae Clavicula indicates, would the sourcing of material for a self portrait be most genuine if the elements to manufacture it were provided by our ancestors?   This notion was in the inspiration for the Inheritance Rite of the Picts in Lords of Dyscrasia.

Petherbridge, D. J., Ludmilla (1997). The Quick and the Dead Artists and Anatomy. Los Angeles, University of California Press.
ii Kemp, M. W., Marina (2000). Spectacular Bodies: The Art and Science of the Human Body from Leonardo to Now. Los Angeles, University of California Press.
iii Da Vinci, L., Ed. (1998). The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci. Oxford World's Classics New York, N.Y., Oxford University Press.  p151
iv Da Vinci, L., Ed. (1998). The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci. Oxford World's Classics New York, N.Y., Oxford University Press.  p178
v Hooke, R. (2007). The Preface, Micrographia or Some Physiological Description of Minute Bodies. New York, NY, Cosimo, Inc. section d-e
vi Haeckel, E. (2008). Art Forms in Nature - the prints of Ernst Haeckel. New York, Prestel.
vii Haeckel, E. (1900). Riddle of the Universe at the Close of the Nineteenth Century (Die Weltraethsel). New York, Harper & Brothers Publishers. p341
viii Haeckel, E. (1900). Riddle of the Universe at the Close of the Nineteenth Century (Die Weltraethsel). New York, Harper & Brothers Publishers. p199


Saturday, August 25, 2018

Sept-Oct 2018 Groupreads: KANE and BLACK COMPANY

The Sword and Sorcery Group on Goodreads invites you to discuss and read (and listen) this Sept-Oct on these two topics:


1) Cook's BLACK COMPANY Groupread Discussion Glen Cook's Black Company.... with a keen eye toward Port of Shadows, the new episode due out Sept-11th 2019. All Black Company books are fair game.

2) KANE Group Discussion . It is always a good time to read Kane, but now we can do so with this group, and a fine podcast already in progress on The Dark Crusade Podcast

It is always a goo time to read Kane, but now we can do so with this group, and a fine podcast already in progress: This Summer/Fall 2019, Jordan Douglas Smith and F. N. York chat about a different story on the Dark Crusade Podcast. The Dark Crusade is a podcast dedicated to the fiction, life, and influences of writer, editor, and publisher Karl Edward Wagner.The goal is to read through the works of Wagner, learn more about him, and reignite interest in his work.

 They already started with:

Masthead Banner: Credits

Glen Cook's Black Company: Port of Shadows, Cover art by - Raymond Swanland 2018

Karl Edward Wagner's Gods in Darkness: The Complete Novels of Kane
2002 by Ken Kelly

Port of Shadows (The Chronicles of the Black Company, #1.5) by Glen Cook Gods in Darkness The Complete Novels of Kane by Karl Edward Wagner