Scott Nicolay’s The Outer Dark podcast (now hosted by This Is Horror) has recently returned after a hiatus due to Scott moving and changing careers. The latest episode is one part archival interview with John Langan (from 2015, before the release of The Fisherman), one part new interview with Langan, and the usual News From the Weird feature.
In the latter, I step in for usual NFtW co-host Justin Steele, and Scott starts us off with a few questions about my own recent and future publishing activities. From there, we discuss new and upcoming books in the field, culminating with my own review/discussion of The Fisherman.
The Outer Dark is a true must-listen podcast for those interested in Weird and Horror Fiction. Check out the latest sort-of-archival presentation HERE
By now I’ve shown the cover of The Lure of Devouring Light, I’ve given the table of contents, bragged about my blurbs from Laird Barron, S.P. Miskowski, Jeffrey Thomas and Michael Cisco, and most recently mentioned the flattering review in Publishers Weekly.
But maybe you’re wondering what these stories are all about. The majority of the book by word count (though not a majority of the stories by number) is previously unpublished. Also, some stories were previously published, but never widely seen. Most of the pages in The Lure of Devouring Light will be unfamiliar, except for those few readers who made a s serious effort to track down all my work along the way.
For this reason, I’d like to go through the table of contents and say something about each story. There will be no spoilers, no excerpts from the text, only a bit about where it came from, and where (if) it was previously published.
Note: As I began working on this post, I quickly realized that it was going to end up too long if I did the entire book all at once. So this will be part one of two, covering the book’s first half, the items in bold in this Table of Contents:
Introduction by John Langan
The Lure of Devouring Light
Dreaming Awake in the Tree of the World
Far From Streets
The Book of Shattered Mornings
Arches and Pillars
The Accident of Survival
No Mask to Conceal Her Voice
The Jewel in the Eye
The Need to Desire
The Black Vein Runs Deep
Introduction by John Langan: Scored, Scoured, Shining: Mike Griffin’s Surreal Inscapes
It’s customary that story collections, especially those from newer writers, include an introduction by a more established writer. The reason for this may be to let an author with greater clout or credibility offer a sort of endorsement, or provide insight in the form of analysis, a sort of map or guide to what should be made of the texts that follow.
I feel very fortunate to have an intro by John Langan. It’s my opinion that John’s last book, The Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies, might have been the best collection of 2013, which is really saying something, considering what else came out that year, including Laird Barron’s The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All. John is far from unknown, but I feel most readers have not yet come to adequately appreciate a powerful, talented and impressive writer he is. But they will come to understand, I have no doubt. John is just too damn good a writer.
I won’t spoil anything John says in the intro, but I will say John Langan was my first choice to fill this slot. I’m flattered and delighted to have an introduction for my first book from someone whose work stands at the pinnacle of present day Horror and Weird Fiction.
The Lure of Devouring Light
The title story was my first professional publication. It came out in Apex Magazine, issue 47 in April, 2013, when Lynne Thomas was editor of Apex. Of course, I was very pleased to have a story in such a notably excellent and high-profile magazine. That year, Apex was up for the Hugo Award in the Best Semi-Pro Zine category, so of course I was hoping they would win so I could take all the credit. Alas, Apex came 2nd for that prize.
My story did receive a bit of notice. Many people sent me comments about it, which was my first experience with that. I even heard from a New York agent, expressing admiration for my prose and asking if I had a novel to submit.
One notable thing about “The Lure of Devouring Light” is that this story was originally written on spec for a themed anthology, but ended up being rejected. Of course rejection is never enjoyable, but in this case I was especially disappointed because I had created the story especially for this theme, this book. My anecdote may sound like sour grapes, but its point is not “how dare that editor reject me?” but something else. If the story had been accepted for that anthology, it could not have been accepted by Apex Magazine, where I received my first professional sale, and where the story received more notice than it might have otherwise.I believe that says a little something about the experience of emerging writers. Be patient. If the work is good, a rejection doesn’t matter.
Dreaming Awake in the Tree of the World
This story may be my favorite among the previously unpublished stories here, not counting the giant novella “The Black Vein Runs Deep,” specially crafted to give extra heft to the end of the collection. Most of my stories are about strange places, and some are inspired by actual locales encountered in the real world. This is one of those.
My wife Lena and I hike a lot, in all kinds of settings within 2-3 hours drive of Portland, where we live. For a while we were very fond of one of the state parks, because in addition to setting in the bend of a beautiful river, and a slope up through the trees a high overlook, it was also very near home, and had good parking and clean bathrooms. In one of our hikes there, early in the Spring after frequent and steady rains had given way to a blast of heat, we encountered trails bogged down with mud, and overgrown with certain plant life that had overreacted to a couple weeks of sunlight. Even some of the elements in the story that may sound as if they could not possibly exist in a public park were in fact found to exist… at least if a little imagination could be used to explain certain things which appeared to lay beyond fenced boundaries.
Far From Streets
For many, “Far From Streets” is the most anticipated inclusion in this book. The novella was previously published in a very small edition, and achieved a fair amount of enthusiastic word of mouth, but because it went out of print before publication, a lot of people who had heard good things about it were unable to find copies.
It came about at NecronomiCon 2013. I was invited by Jordan Krall to write something for Dunhams Manor Press. I believe Jordan had been talked into this by Scott Nicolay, with whom Jordan had driven to Providence from New Jersey.
Because this was to be a stand-alone book, I saw this as an opportunity to write longer than was usually allowed by magazines or anthologies. I decided to rework an old story idea I really loved, but which had stalled, into a length that would allow me to do it justice. This problem had occurred several times in my earlier years as a writer — I would come up with something like a novel-sized idea and try to squeeze it into the 5,000 words usually allowed. So I ended up with folders full of ideas I had tried to write, stories I really wanted to tell, but which I had never been capable of pulling off, given the constraints of short story length. Having permission to write longer gave me the opportunity to revisit and flesh out such a very personal story idea, and work it out in depth. It was a difficult but wonderful and enlightening process.
I believed it was by far the best thing I’d yet written, but I was unsure how people would receive it. The story seemed very strange, and I wondered how it would come across. Because of publishing lead times, nobody ended up reading what I had written for quite a while after I was finished, so I had plenty of time to worry I had made it too strange, too philosophical or too perversely dark.
When the book came out, the reception was strongly and uniformly positive. This was a great experience, hearing from people who had ordered the book, or friends to whom I’d given copies. “Far From Streets” will always be an important milestone in my development, both from my inward perspective as a writer, and in terms of how other people began to recognize me as someone they wanted to read.
The Book of Shattered Mornings
Another previously unpublished piece. Some stories which include a lot of “drawn from life” influence bring it all from one place, one experience or one person. Others stitch together varied parts from different times and locations to create a strange brew, unpredictable because of the disparity of the ingredients. This story is of the latter type.
Arches and Pillars
This story’s background is much like “The Lure of Devouring Light” above, written on spec for a themed anthology for which it didn’t make the cut. Disappointment at that “failure” was quickly replaced by elation at the home my story found with the next place I sent it. “Arches and Pillars” was my first acceptance by the highly regarded Horror magazine, Black Static. I appeared in issue 35, July 2013, along with Daniel Mills, who has turned out to be the writer with whom I’ve shared a Table of Contents more often than any other, so far.
“Arches and Pillars” has its origins in a story I wrote in my twenties, when I was trying to write “straight” character-driven fiction, whether you want to call that literary or mainstream or something else. The aspects of the story I wanted to keep, primarily the delicate balancing act between two characters, really came to life once I imagined, “What if something strange…”
Stay tuned for the sequel to this post, in which I’ll discuss the six stories in the second half of the book.
If you care to zoom back-weird through time and read my preview of NecronomiCon Providence 2015, zoom HERE.
So, now it’s over, in fact it’s been over for a month already!
I used to write a lengthy and extremely detailed report after every convention. While I love reading posts like that, and they’re actually fun to write, they’re just too time consuming.
So instead, how ’bout a photo or two, and a brief rundown of highlights?
NecronomiCon 2015 in Providence seemed to be the big 2015 convention most people were anticipating with excitement. The 2013 event was a lot of fun for everybody I spoke with. It was the last opportunity I had to meet some of my favorite writers like Laird Barron and Richard Gavin, who don’t attend a lot of events. I heard from several people who said they may not make it to any other conventions in 2015, but they were definitely not going to miss NecronomiCon.
At the 2013 NecronomiCon, almost everyone stayed at the Biltmore Hotel, where most of the panels and readings were held. This time, though, many of us stayed at the Omni Hotel, on the other side of the road destruction between the two main hotels. We were pleasantly surprised at our room — big and modern and clean!
The bathroom (not pictured) was almost as big as the rest of our room, and included not only a huge stone tile walk-in shower, but also a giant tub. If I ever need to stay in Providence for weeks on end, this is the room I want. As it turned out, we were so busy on this short trip, we didn’t spend much time here.
An interesting thing about the Omni is that the rooms are primarily split into two towers (secretly code-named Barad-dur and Orthanc), and each tower’s elevators require a room key card. But the key cards from one tower are compatible only with the one elevator, not the other. This created a situation where we wanted to meet up with friends who were staying in the very same hotel, but we couldn’t take the elevator up to get to each other’s rooms, and had to text each other and meet up down in the lobby. I can’t think of a great reason why your room key gets you access to half the Omni’s zillion rooms, but not the other half.
Speaking of the Omni’s lobby, it had the most interesting glass sculpture hanging overhead. Everyone who saw the photos compared it to a shoggoth, so the shoggoth sculpture it will forever be named.
A few people had gifts for Joe Pulver (photo above) since his birthday was the month before, and mailing gifts to Germany is all insane-crazy expensive.
Our first dinner was in a big group at the Viva Mexico Cantina. The food was pretty good, but down at the end of the bar, the music was loud and TV sports blared, creating a pretty awful cacophony which left even those of us with perfect hearing unable to follow conversations happening only a few feet away.
Every time I go to a convention, one of the main things I come away with is a determination that next time I will avoid large group meals in noisy venues!
Late at night, after at least one of us had a successful business meeting, my wife Lena and I had a drink with Joe Pulver and his wife Kat to toast Joe’s brand-new contract with publisher Fedogan and Bremer for an anthology in tribute to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
I love this movie, and know how long this project has been a dream of Joe’s, so it’s wonderful that it has the support of an excellent publisher. Many great writers have already agreed to participate. I’m sure we’ll hear more information from Joe and F&B soon about this very promising book.
… and speaking of Joe, AKA Joseph S. Pulver Sr., one of my first priorities upon arriving in Providence was to get my hands on copies of The Doom That Came to Providence, the round robin project Joe edited as a special treat related to this event. All the stories relate to the “Water Fire” event from the 2013 con, with everybody taking a different angle on strange happenings that may or may not have gone down that night. The books turned out great – check out the beautiful cover art by Nick Gucker!
Here I am reading my story “I’m Looking for Nick Cowan or Cody Steele from The Doom That Came to Providence. I thought the reading went pretty well, and a very good crowd attended. I read along with Scott Thomas, David Neilsen and Peter Rawlik.
Above photo by Matthew Carpenter.
Speaking of the audience for my reading, I snapped a couple of pictures of those assembled. Above you see the kind of wild and crazy folks who show up to events like this. That’s the reclusive genius Michael Cisco on the left and darling Nikki Guerlain on the right. See, public readings of weird fiction inspire folks to all kinds of public displays of affection, and the crowd was generally draped all over one another!
Above photo is a treatment by Nikki Guerlain of my original photo.
The other programming I participated in was the panel discuss, “The Future of Weird Fiction,” moderated by SJ Bagley and with fellow panelists Simon Strantzas, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Justin Steele and Joe Pulver.
The panel was well attended, and the discussion was a very good one, with lots of interesting talk about the state of weird fiction, how it’s changed since the old days. Most interesting was the section in which each of us suggested writers (or in a few cases, editors or publishing venues) we thought likely to be part of the vital future of our subgenre.
One disappointing aspect of the panel is that I had offered to help Scott Nicolay record the audio of the panel, which Scott hoped to feature on his interview podcast The Outer Dark. Unfortunately, we must have fumbled the handoff of my digital voice recorder, and we only captured the first few seconds of preliminary murmuring, and none of the good stuff. My apologies! This would have been an interesting recording to revisit later.
Above photo is by Scott Nicolay.
Speaking of Scott and The Outer Dark (note my t-shirt), here we are after breakfast at Viva Mexico Cantina.
All these photographs of readings and panels and other such events might lead one to believe the convention experience to be something formal or at least organized. This is not true. The most important aspect of the convention experience is the informal meeting with friends and associates we meet in hotel lobbies, on the sidewalk, in various bars, or in that most honored off-schedule event, the room party.
I photographed these bottles of Lagavulin in John Langan’s room party. I brought the bottle of Lagavulin 16 in honor of the 2013 Langan/Barron room party, where both Michael Cisco and I brought a bottle of the same, without advance planning.
This is the kind of thing you might get when you come to these conventions. Remember, kids, when the writing pros say “conventions are important for networking,” what they really mean is good Scotch whisky.
Room parties are great, but I also mentioned hanging around in bars. Here’s a photo of me in the McCormick’s bar. At this event, I met for the first time (in person) my wonderful friend, the excellent writer Damien Angelica Walters. She was drinking many, many of these light, fragrant and sort of flowery beverages, the Prosecco sangria. I told her these were eroding her talent and weakening her writerly fortitude, and that she’d be much better off to drink good, brown Scotch and bourbon.
She convinced me to try one of these. Look, I’m drinking it! I tried to make the most insipid face I could for this photo, but I don’t look appreciably more or less silly than usual. What conclusions should be taken from this, I remain uncertain.
The drink sure did smell pretty, though. All herbs and sugar and spice and flower petals and unbearable lightness.
Speaking of Damien, here she is alongside Silvia Moreno-Garcia, who was a Guest of Honor at the event, as well as my co-panelist on the Future of Weird Fiction panel (see above).
It’s a wonderful and unusual thing to see convention attendees wearing something other than black t-shirts with pictures of tentacle things!
More loitering and tomfoolery in hotel lobbies. Here Paul Tremblay and John Langan gather to stroke the sultry facial hair of noted Canadian beardist, Simon Strantzas.
This takes place in the lobby of the Biltmore hotel, a classy joint, despite the presence of persons such as the ones shown here.
Speaking of disreputable types, here we have Charles (left) and Sean (right) of Miskatonic Musings podcast, with my wife Lena in the dealer room. I should have spent more time in the dealer room this year! It was a wonderful thing.
Also in the dealer room, here we have Matthew Warren Richey in his excellent shoggoth costume, carrying the Word Horde Banner. This costume is the boss of all costumes. Good job, Matthew!
From what I was able to tell, at the Word Horde vendor table Ross Lockhart sold out everything, and his table-mate Scott R Jones did as well. I also know Sam Cowan was happy with how sales went at the Dim Shores table. I love to hear of vendors doing well, because it means publishers and sellers of books are moving lots of the things, and that readers are eager to grab them up.
Here a large group of us dared to leave the immediate circle of the Omni and Biltmore, and ventured across Providence in search of food. I love a good walk, and it was nice to see a different part of town.
Everyone wanted to stop by this creepy old horror house (sorry if you live there and are offended by this characterization, but it can’t be helped — a bunch of visiting weirdos wanted to be photographed in front of your place for a reason) just down the street from the restaurant.
Pictured here (L-R) we have Lena Griffin, Erin Jane Laroue, Nathan Carson, Ross E Lockhart, Scott Dwyer, Heidi Ash, Justin Steele and Tom Lynch. I was also present, behind the camera, and will forever regret not appearing in this photograph.
At every horror-centric convention, it’s best to expect to rub shoulders on at least one occasion with true horror.
Here I am in conversation with the nightmare demon who had taken the form of John Langan just moments before.
All good things come to an end… don’t they?
Deliriously happy yet exhausted, we made our way to the airport for our return home. But the convention was not yet over! Right behind us in line, who should appear but artist extraordinaire and all-round top fellow Nick Gucker, cover artists of The Doom That Came to Providence (see above).
Nick was carrying some excellent reading material for the flight, one of my very favorite short story collections of the past half-decade or so, AT FEAR’S ALTAR by Richard Gavin.
You see, even when you think the time of your life is done, it’s not really over. See you next time!