Walking a Tentacled Tightrope: My Challenging Relationship with HPL

The other day my friend, Clinton Cronk (talented cartographer and author of a really awesome, nuanced, and well-edited Forgotten Realms adventure that will be on sale very soon), posted a link to an article on my Facebook wall and asked for my thoughts, given my writerly inclinations and interest in matters Lovecraftian.

I started drafting a response and quickly realized this was a far deeper question than a mere FB reply could handle.

I can usually separate the artist from their art, and appreciate a creator’s work on its own merits in a detached manner, even if I find said creator to be a loathsome human being. I don’t know if this is a “normal” thing to do, but I can do this quite easily.  Maybe this is because in most cases said piece of art, unless it deeply moves me, is a thing—possibly even a lovely thing—that someone else created.  Or perhaps my being able to compartmentalise in this way is a product of having worked more than 20 years in government, where in order to succeed one must occasionally check one’s personal beliefs at the door in order to faithfully carry out the commands of our political masters.  Despite all this, Lovecraft and his views present a challenge to me.

It is generally accepted now that Lovecraft was bigoted even by the standards of his time (he was called out for it on several occasions)—we see evidence of this in his work, and accounts from his ex-wife and friends all paint a picture of a man who hated immigrants, despised (and feared) intermarriage, and held romanticised notions of a white colonial, Georgian America that never existed.  Sadly, many tendrils of these ideas are found in his works, which I won’t expand on because it’s done in many other places.  I didn’t notice these unsavoury aspects when I first picked up Lovecraft in my teens—he was the first horror author I ever read—and I was enthralled by his mythology surrounding the Great Old Ones, his portrayal of advanced science as fantasy to those who cannot comprehend it, and above all his “cosmic indifferentism.”(1)  By the time I finished high school I’d read all of his fiction, plus that of many of his circle of writerly friends from the ‘20s and ‘30s, and he became a yardstick.  More than that, it was Lovecraft’s Mythos and the deep history behind it that gave me a strong nudge on my writerly path.

As I got older and became more socially aware, and after I’d read annotated stories and critical essays about him, I came to see the other side of the author.  The more I saw, the less I liked, and as I read more by other horror authors I began to look at his writing more critically.  His florid prose, while evocative at times, was not masterful, and his reliance on portraying horrors as being “indescribable” increasingly came across as being lazy.  Lovecraft may have been kind to his friends, he may have offered encouragement and support to up-and-coming authors, and he may have ardently loved cats, but I doubt anyone would say he was a particularly “good” person in the sense we consider it to mean today.  After starting on the writerly path in my 30s I began attending conventions where Lovecraft and his racism were discussed, and on several occasions participated in panel discussions about it.  I met other authors on different creative paths who interacted with Lovecraft’s works very differently—or not at all.  How could I reconcile the truth of the man with the fact that I still enjoy his fiction (which was partly responsible for me becoming a writer today)?  I also knew I had to take a stand because, rightly or wrongly, some in the writing community see me as a “go-to” person about Lovecraft and his work, and if I am to fulfill that role honestly I have to view it objectively.

I looked inside, and knew that I couldn’t compartmentalise this so easily.  I had been inspired by the Mythos, and it’s a fountain I return to on occasion.  It’s helped me write published fiction and gaming products that I know people out in the world enjoy.(2)  In some way, it’s part of my creative self.  And that’s when I decided how I would address the shambling cephalopod in the room:  I made the conscious choice to dislike the author for his politics, to acknowledge the presence of his unsavoury ideas in many of his works, and, should I create something in a Lovecraftian vein, to do so consciously.  My Mythos works may be inspired by Lovecraft’s creations, but I tell my stories from my own perspective that is informed by our time.  Where possible, I try to build my own additions to the Mythos.

This makes writing harder, but I hope doing so produces stories that carry far less baggage.

(1) That the universe is basically a great, unfeeling, unknowing machine and humanity is ultimately insignificant within it.  This notion resonated with me greatly at an impressionable age.

(2) Which is interesting because Lovecraft despised games—which would probably be a shock to many Call of Cthulhu fans.

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For What It’s Worth

Although I work a day job, I try to advance my creative endeavours in fiction and gaming whenever I can. It’s a long slog peppered with occasional setbacks, but I’m determined to realise my dream. One motivational tool I use is to pin up copies of all of the covers of the roleplaying modules I have written, as well as the anthologies and magazines that have featured my work as a reminder of how far I have come. I don’t trumpet it to my co-workers or brag about what I have done; I let the covers speak for themselves (and I have a few more to put up…)

gallery

Last week a co-worker came by my office to talk about something, and noticed my collection. The conversation went something like this:

Colleague: “Hey Geoff, what are all those pictures in your office?”
Me: “Those are covers of all the anthologies my stories are in.”
C: “You write? Cool! I’d love to read them!”
Me: “I’ll send you the Amazon links if you like. All I ask is that you post a review.”
C: “Oh. I was hoping to be able to read them online.” (shuffles away)

******

Like anything else that is worthwhile, art takes a lot of time to create and even more to master. On the latter, I see the skillful demonstration of any craft as being analogous to an iceberg—the part you see is tiny compared to what lies hidden. Basically an iceberg squared, if such a thing could exist. Whatever creative endeavour one pursues, it’s work—and a lot of it:

It’s stewing in one’s creative juices trying to come up with something worthy of making into art.

It’s the first abortive attempts that seem awesome at first, and then appear totally worthless as our confidence and initial creative euphoria erode in revision runoffs.

It’s finally, after many twists and turns, making something that seems to match what we had in our heads…and then submitting it for scrutiny (whether by an editor, a gallery, etc.), only to find ourselves on another emotional rollercoaster where we often question our integrity and value as artists until our work is either accepted or rejected.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

All this to say, any form of artistic expression, whether it is done “for the love” or because the artist is trying to make some money from their craft, requires sacrificing a great deal of time and energy from an all-too-finite pool. And that sacrifice is, in itself, a gesture of love towards one’s craft.

As an artist’s friend, colleague, partner—or even if you’re a complete stranger—you should not, out of respect for that love of craft, dismiss their work out of hand. Approach their work with a curious eye or accepting ear, and above all an open mind. If, in the end, you don’t like their work then give honest, respectful feedback and explain why. Likewise, if there was something about the artist’s work you did like, give them the affirmation they need and tell them so—and post a review.

Above all, if the artist respectfully tells you that they aren’t about to give you their art for free don’t scurry away, because in doing so you are telling them how little value you place on their work.

…And That’s the Kind of Year It’s Been

At one point I promised myself I would improve my blogging habits, as it’s important to have something to shoot for. I’m happy to report that I continue to have a goal in this department. While I didn’t post much here in 2018, a lot did, in fact, go on – perhaps it’s accurate to say that I was busy trying to do things that would be worthy to post here.

Yeah, we’ll go with that.

So, without further ado, I’ll run though how 2018 shaped up for me…

Fiction

The year started off with a high note when I learned that “The Wind Father”, my Lovecraftian weird western story that was published in 2017 by Third Flatiron Publishing in their Principia Ponderosa anthology, made it onto Tangent Online’s 2017 Recommended Reading list . This was almost as good as winning an award, and it buoyed my spirits in the early months of 2018.

In May, “Full House”, a science fiction story I co-wrote with my partner, Fiona Plunkett, was picked up by Exile Editions for their Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland anthology. This story was intended to be a fast-paced piece with space operatic overtones, and I was glad that Tangent Online also thought so. We had a successful book launch in Ottawa, and followed up with more readings later that year at CAN*CON. I was especially happy that “Full House” got the nod because I’ve long been a fan of space opera and wanted to get something published in that genre. Fiona and I ended the story with Alis and Risus heading out for further adventures, and I plan to see where they end up. 😉

Around the same time, I received word that a horror story of mine called, “The Draught of Dreams” had been accepted by Lycan Valley Publishing for their “Subliminal Realities” anthology. This was especially satisfying because this was one of the first stories I ever wrote, and each rejection (more than I care to count) only made me even more certain that it was a tale that needed to be told. The book is due out soon, and I happy the story finally has a home.

This year was also a good one for reprints—two, in fact. “Giving At The Office”, which originally appeared in Dusty Wallace’s People Eating People (2014), was picked up by Digital Fiction Publishing for their latest horror anthology. Also, my Lovecraftian tale of terror on the Great Lakes, “Deadly Cargo”, will appear in Pole-to-Pole Publishing’s “Re-Terrify” anthology, due to come out soon.

More recently I received word that another story of mine has been accepted in an anthology due for release in early 2019, but I can’t say more for the moment… 😉

Gaming

For the past couple of years I had been devoting a considerable amount of energy to my work for The Ed Greenwood Group, but when the company folded I saw an opportunity to take what I learned and cast my net out farther. I’m happy to say that a few articles of mine will be appearing in the next issue of Arkham Gazette, a Call of Cthulhu-themed magazine produced by Sentinel Hill Press under license from Chaosium, Inc. Writing material for my favourite Lovecraftian game has long been a career goal of mine, and getting my foot in the door makes me feel like I levelled-up (pun slightly intended). There is the possibility of more work with SHP, so time will tell.

2018 was also a turning point for me, game-writing wise, because it was the first time a professional market approached me to write something for them. Expeditious Retreat Press asked me for an adventure module, and I happily delivered one to them in the horror vein. Stay tuned for updates on when it will come out!

Other stuff is on tap for 2019, but again I can’t say anything about it right now.

Other Awesomeness

Perhaps the most surprising thing that happened this year was when Tito Ferradans, a Vancouver-based film-maker, approached me for the rights to make a short film based on my short story, White Noise”, which was first published by AE Science Fiction in 2013, and re-printed in the anthology, Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse”. This has been a hugely exciting experience, and I can’t wait to see the final product! Tito created an Indiegogo campaign to finance the making of this film. There’s still some time left before the campaign ends, so I invite you to check it out and support an indie film-maker!

My friend and writing buddy, Brandon Crilly, kindly interviewed us about the film and the story behind it.

All things considered, it *has* been quite a year…and I wouldn’t have wanted it to turn out any other way. Here’s to hoping 2019 proves to be just as fruitful!

It’s CAN*CON time again!

The leaves are turning, chill winds are beginning to blow, and Hallowe’en is just around the corner…

…and that means CAN*CON, Ottawa’s annual conference on speculative arts and literature, is upon us again!.

This year’s program is loaded with excellent panels you won’t want to miss, and there are a number of very notable guests you’ll want to meet! Although pre-registration is now full, you can still buy admission at the door.

For those interested, here is my schedule at the con:

Friday, October 12

17:00-17:50 (Salon B)
Alice Unbound Reading
Join me and Kate Heartfield, Cait Gordon, Dominik Parisien, Elizabeth Hosang, and Andrew Sutherland as we read from our stories published in this anthology.

18:00-18:50 (Dealers’ Room)
Exile Editions Table
I will be manning the table for Exile Editions – copies of Alice Unbound and other Exile titles will be on sale. Stop by for a chat!

20:00-20:50 (Salon D)
Braaaains. Please. Sorry.
A discussion of the mark made by Canadian zombie fiction and its connection to our wider focus on the living dead.

Saturday, October 13

I’m not on any panels, but will be there for much of the day.

Sunday, October 14

11:00-12:50 (Salon C)
Creating Game Adventures: From Outline to Treasure Hoard (Seminar & Workshop)
Love RPGs? Ever consider writing your own module? Join me for this 2-hour workshop where I will you through the considerations and process of writing for an RPG, beginning with a seminar discussion of what you need to consider, and finishing with a collaborative workshop. The best part? You’ll walk away with the beginnings of a product that you can market to games publishers.

1:00-1:50 (Dealers’ Room)
Exile Editions Table
I’ll be manning the table once again for Exile Editions.

I hope to see you there!

Updates, I have a few…

It’s been a while since I posted – part of that is because of the ups and downs of regular life, but the other reason is because I’ve been away creating!

First, I’m excited about the recent publication of “The Wind Father”, my Lovecraftian weird western short story, in the recently-released Principia Ponderosa anthology by Third Flatiron Publishing!

The story takes place in the Canadian West in the 1880s.  Settler families have been murdered with some being carried off into a forbidding no man’s land. Sergeant Blake is determined to rescue the most recent victim, defying his commanding officer and leading his small detachment into the hills. What they find is not a band of criminals, but an ancient evil beyond the scope of mere laws…

Principia Ponderosa is available in trade paperback and electronic form, and so far the collection has been receiving very positive feedback.  The kind folks at Tangent reviewed the anthology, and called my story “[a] well-executed piece of Lovecraftian horror set in the Canadian frontier” where the tension build each scene is “just a little bit stranger or more disturbing than what came before.”

I’m also happy to say that Digital Fiction Publishing bought the reprint rights to two previously-published stories of mine:  “Re-Possession”, a zombie-themed tale of corporate intrigue, and “For Old Times’ Sake”, my flash piece about what happens once superheroes retire. This is a great company to work with, and they give free access to hundreds of science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories.  You can follow them on Twitter, as well.

I’m putting the finishing touches on a few other creative works – more horror and fantasy short stories, as well as a full-length roleplaying module set in Ed Greenwood’s fantasy world of Stormtalons.  Stay tuned for more!

Back to Adventure

While much of my focus, roleplaying-wise, is now on working with an awesome team of Creatives to develop The Ed Greenwood Group‘s world of Stormtalons, I still produce other works from time to time.

I’m very happy to announce the publication of my latest roleplaying adventure module, “The Crocodile’s Tear”, by Expeditious Retreat Press, an independent publisher of quality, old-school roleplaying games of a variety of genres – from high fantasy to gritty modern espionage. This is the third module of mine that they have published, and I enjoy working with them.

AA34 Cover

A “New” Roleplaying Release

As I’ve said a few times, I started my writing career in the roleplaying world.  The many hours spent adventuring in the imaginary worlds Dungeons and Dragons and similar games fuelled my imagination in ways that movies, TV shows, and even books never could.  After I’d run a few adventures of my own, I read the professionally-published adventure modules with a more critical eye.  The storylines offered the blend of heroism and peril that I found engaging, the adventure locales they presented were often interesting, but I couldn’t help but walk away slightly dissatisfied.  There wasn’t enough history.  I wanted to know more about the motivations of some of the personalities the players would meet along the way.  I often saw opportunities for further adventures that the module writers hadn’t explored (or, more realistically, didn’t have the time to explore because of production schedules).

So I started writing modules of my own, and in so doing learned quite a bit about how to structure a storyline (a well crafted adventure is a highly interactive story, after all), and how to build a world on a small scale.  I also derived a lot of satisfaction from producing something tangible that other people could read and use at their leisure.  After I joined the online roleplaying community and connected with like-minded people, I found an audience as well as friends and colleagues with whom I could share ideas, and give and receive constructive criticism that pushed me even farther along my path.  Eventually I moved into writing fiction, but I never forgot my roots and I enjoy returning to them from time to time.

With all that in mind I am very happy to share my latest release, an adventure module for Dungeons and Dragons (although it could be used with any system with a bit of tweaking) entitled “The Wanderer’s Grave”.  This product is free to use and share, and if you have any comments I would love to hear them.

GGA1 Cover

Happy adventuring!

 

It’s Aurora Awards Season – Come Out and Vote!

The Aurora Awards are awarded annually to the best in Canadian science fiction and fantasy. Past winners include authors such as Robert J. Sawyer wiki and William Gibson wiki. What sets the Auroras apart from other awards is that all Canadian citizens and residents can nominate and vote for up to three works in a number of categories. That’s right – YOU get to choose.

To make your voice heard, all you need to do is join the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association. A one-year membership is only $10, registration is fast, and you won’t be spammed. You will then be able to nominate up to three works in categories that include novels, novellas, short stories, artists, magazines, graphic novels, and more!

This year, a story of mine called Re-Possession is eligible to be nominated in the short story category. You can read it for free here

The full eligibility list can be found here. Nominations close on March 19, 2016. I hope I can count on your vote!

Stories Come in Many Forms

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

– Michelangelo

Everyone has a passion somewhere inside them, and they should be encouraged to pursue it as much as they desire so long as it brings them joy. I love to write and tell stories, and I express this through writing fiction and through roleplaying games – both fairly safe and sane activities.

My partner, Fiona Plunkett, also known as The Witch of South Mountain, has long had a passion for stone carving. For her, it’s an organic process: She once told me she looks at a stone and sees the final sculpture inside it, as though the stone “knows” what it wants to be and it is up to her to free it. I get that. Often, a story idea pops into my head and the process of writing feels more like acting as a conduit for the story to tell itself through me.  In those moments I truly feel like I’m in the writing zone, and time flies by.

This month, some of her carvings are on display at the Brockville Arts Centre, a venue that promotes regional artists of all forms. Looking at the display she put together, with her tools and raw stone at the bottom and her finished pieces above, I can see the stones telling stories of their own. The animal carvings show movement – are they escaping a predator, or are they searching for something? Likewise, I can picture her inukshuks standing on a barren Arctic plain, or sitting atop a craggy northern shore, which I could fill with characters of my own.

Someday I will draw inspiration from one of Fiona’s works and tell a new story of my own, but in the meantime I will enjoy the expression of her art. I hope you will, too.

My CAN-CON Schedule!

Hi everyone,

It’s that time of year again, and for me that means CAN-CON, Ottawa’s annual conference on speculative arts and literature. This year is a bit of a change for me, because I’m only participating in two panel discussions this year. I will, however, be attending many more, and I look forward to connecting with friends and colleagues – old and new – as well as learning a great deal.

I will be participating in the following panels on Saturday, October 31:

The Basics of the Sword, the Katana, and Viking Axe (12:00 – 12:55 pm, in Salon E), with Ariella Elema, Kris Ramsey, and Raeanne Roy.

Weird Fiction and Lovecraftian Themes (2:00-2:55 pm, Salon D), with Leah Bobet and Sean Moreland.

I hope to see you there!