MONARCHS OF MAYHEM: AN INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD GAVIN

“It is only proper for a man to taste misery in his thirty-third year, Nathaniel decided. While waiting in the airport lounge Nathaniel realized that, in some small way, he was approaching his own customized Golgotha. Though he doubted that the effects of his journey would ever equal those of the messiah, he nonetheless found himself wondering whether Venice would bring him peace or a sword.”
—’Strange Advances’ by Richard Gavin

Omens[Hardcover]Richard Gavin- Omens is a collection of twelve haunting tales by Richard Gavin, whose work is reminiscent of the subtle supernatural tales of Robert Aickman, and also of the eerie and unsettling tales of Thomas Ligotti. — I like collections. I think the short story format can, when done well, offer variety and freshness, that can sometimes be hard to sustain over the course of a novel. Some of our most acclaimed writers, those who remain relevant generations on, Poe, Lovecrat, Howard, etc., do so because of their short stories. Because of their ability to in scant words get to the heart of a story and of ourselves. Richard Gavin does that in these stories, that while it has beeen alluded to Aickman or Ligotti, the stories are more visceral than Aickman and more satisfying than Ligotti, are uniquely Richard Gavin.

 

If you’ve been coming to this blog in the last month you can not help but see how enamored I have been with Richard Gavin’s short story collection, OMENS. His Sophomore collection, the 2nd in now four collections, was my introduction to the writer. Based on the strength of which, all of the writer’s works are now on my radar.

Whether it’s the Gothic meets ghostly underpinnings of ‘Pale Lover’ or the implacable, creeping horror of “The Bellman’s Way” or subtle and sumptuous tales of the existential and the lost such as ‘Strange Advances” you will find it all in Gavin’s OMENS. But mostly you will find a use of language that cradles you like a lover, before riding you like a fiend.

And this writer of the strange and the dessicated and the boundless loss, was kind enough to consent to some words and some time. The reason I do this MONARCHS OF MAYHEM segment is because I think it is endlessly fascinating not just how the most imaginative people think, and their loves, and influences, and challenges, but the differences in their views and passions when contrasted with their peers. Richard Gavin brings a rich, depth to his responses that I think will both enrich and enliven you, as much as it did me. Again it comes down to that term, endlessly fascinating, and Richard Gavin… is that. Enjoy.

MONARCHS OF MAYHEM: AN INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD GAVIN

HT: We’ll start with an easy one. What is your favorite genre or genres?

RG: The Gothic and weird strains of the Horror genre, followed closely by 19th century Decadent literature.

[for those of you like me who want to read more about 19th century decadent literature, this GUARDIAN article and the comments are intriguing.]

HT: What is the favorite thing you’ve written (both long form (novel) and short form (short story) and feel free to do detail and discuss why if you choose)?

RG: Probably my novella THE ELDRITCH FAITH, which will be published in my forthcoming collection. I consider it a very “pure” work because it was written with no public considerations whatsoever. I wrote it for myself.

It’s a 25,000-word meditation on a nightmarish reality. Consequently, some readers may roll their eyes and dismiss THE ELDRITCH FAITH as an over-the-top mood piece, but so be it.

HT: Name 5 classic or genre writers who inspire or impress or influence you?

RG: I will cheat a little here by listing five authors from history and five contemporary ones:

Past masters: Algernon Blackwood, Hanns Heinz Ewers, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and Comte de Lautréamont.

Maldoror and the Complete Works of the Comte de Lautréamont

André Breton wrote that Maldoror is “the expression of a revelation so complete it seems to exceed human potential.” Little is known about its pseudonymous author aside from his real name (Isidore Ducasse), birth in Uruguay (1846), and early death in Paris (1870). Lautréamont’s writings bewildered his contemporaries but the Surrealists modeled their efforts after his lawless black humor and poetic leaps of logic, exemplified by the oft-quoted slogan, “As beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella!” Maldoror’s shocked first publisher refused to bind the sheets of the original edition… and perhaps no better invitation exists to this book which warns the reader, “Only the few may relish this bitter fruit without danger.” This is the only complete annotated collection of Lautréamont’s writings available in English, in a superior translation.

“Lautréamont’s style is hallucinatory, visionary… this new fluent translation makes clear its poetic texture and what may be termed its subversive attraction.” — New York Times

“Alexis Lykiard’s translation is both subtle and earthy… this is the best translation now available.” — Washington Post Book World

Contemporary masters: Thomas Ligotti, Clive Barker, Gemma Files, Ramsey Campbell, and Caitlin R. Kiernan.

HT: Name some current or new writers, whose work you’ve recently read or discovered and blew you away.

RG: In the interest of full disclosure I must admit that I am irritatingly picky when it comes to modern fiction, genre or otherwise. I read very little of it because a lot of contemporary writing leaves me cold for various reasons; the most common being lifeless, pedestrian prose. The modern writers I mentioned in question number three are ones I consider exceptions because they produce daring visions and, more importantly, unique and rich language.

Many current writers seem too plot-minded. Atmosphere and startling word-selection take a back seat to rollicking story-lines, or worse still, to postmodern genre mash-ups (werewolf detectives, love-starved vampire spies, etc.) I’ve spoken to a lot of genre writers who believe that unusual words (by which I mean words that one might not use in the course of everyday conversation) are simply pretentious, silly, or are distractions from what must always be a rip-roarin’ read. None of this resonates with me. My tastes run to the Decadent and the grotesque and the weird, to fiction that doesn’t read like fiction but rather like a lost account of some truly awesome occurrence.

Beneath The Surface

Nightingale Songs

Bearing all this preamble in mind, I would say that Simon Strantzas is a writer who with each passing year needs less of an introduction to readers who love moody, enigmatic short stories. Laird Barron creates Horror fiction that is deeply atmospheric and genuinely frightening. I’ve also been delighted by the extraordinary work I’ve read from Livia Llewellyn, Daniel Mills, and Orrin Grey.


Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors

HT: Going along with the above, name an author(s) (either new or old) who you think does not get the attention they deserve, and everyone should be reading.

RG: There are plenty of writers who are now all but forgotten because their work is no longer en vogue. On the one hand this is sad, but on the other hand, for the die-hard connoisseur there is a singular joy to digging into the genre’s past and “unearthing” these obscure writers. It’s akin to wandering in a foreign land and suddenly encountering someone who speaks your language. Such discoveries keep people seeking for rarer and rarer treasures, so I’ll leave the reader to unearth these old companions on their own. Obscurity in the contemporary field, however, is a different animal. This kind of attention-deficit can do real harm to a writer’s sense of self-worth. I know a little something of this myself. One current writer whose work is criminally overlooked is Matt Cardin. His short stories and essays are superb examples of the kind of thoughtful, deeply textured Horror that I personally love. Matt’s collection DARK AWAKENINGS was one of the best I’ve read in years.

Dark Awakenings

Revenants

HT: Name 2 or 3 of your favorite horror, fantasy, genre, etc., short stories

RG: “Professor Nobody’s Little Lectures on Supernatural Horror” by Thomas Ligotti, “The Hound” by H.P. Lovecraft, “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood.

[ The wonderful folks at Lovecraftzine have an audio reading of 'The Hound". Swing by and give a listen here.]

HT: Anthologies are usually theme based, so you have your Poe anthologies, or Lovecraft etc. If you could do a short story for such an anthology, if you could decide/choose, what would the anthology be about.

RG:I would love to see a hefty anthology that features not short stories, but accounts from various writers, past and present, detailing their most vivid, unworldly nightmares. It would be a kind of frightening and intimate dream journal, but by many dreamers instead of one.

HT: Name 5 Favorite films, horror or otherwise.

RG: I’ll squeeze in six titles if I may. Films that have had a lasting impact on me are BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR, BORN OF FIRE, DIVINE HORSEMEN: THE LIVING GODS OF HAITI, ROSEMARY’S BABY, MEETINGS WITH REMARKABLE MEN, and Carl Dreyer’s VAMPYR.

Divine Horsemen:The Living Gods of Haiti: A Film by Maya Deren

Beyond Dream’s Door (Special Edition)

Vampyr (The Criterion Collection)

HT: What do you think can or should be done to get more writers producing genre fiction, and more importantly to get more of the public reading genre fiction

RG: Nothing whatsoever. In fact, I don’t want ANY writers producing genre fiction. This may sound hypocritical coming from a writer who has always identified himself as a Horror writer, but the Horror fiction that is most valuable to me is the kind born of Horror writers, not of writers who sometimes wrote Horror as a mere literary convention.

The Horror-as-genre mentality creates a very tepid construct, one that overflows with cliches and stock images. A great deal of Horror is unreadable to me because I can tell when it’s been written by a jack/jill-of-all-trades writer who paid a quick visit to that dark country for whatever reason (to amuse themselves, there was an open market, they just need to write every day, etc.). They write something “scary” (often
trying to achieve little else) and then they leap back to space operas or social realism or dragon fantasies or what have you. It’s all just genre-jumping. Many writers are praised as being diverse for doing this,
but I don’t care about diversity. I want a singular vision. I don’t want to hear from the tourists of Horror who found the setting strange or quaint. I want to hear from the lifelong residents, the ones who were born there.

Personally, I don’t toy with genre elements or try my hand at dozens of styles as a creative exercise. When I write, I am conveying reality as a I see it. Period. Yes, of course there are obvious dramatic embellishments, and yes, I have the same drudgery in my day-to-day routine as you do, but ultimately I view the world through a glass darkly, if you will. For as long as I can remember, my psyche has resided in the Underworld. I’m quite happy this way. My stories are a manner of “dramatic footnote” to my life experiences; a more public communication perhaps, but not fundamentally different from the diaries and dream journals I keep.

I never try to “write dark.” I experience the world in a Gothic manner and I write what I find moving and beautiful and eerie. Therefore, the writers with which I feel the strongest resonance are the ones who spent their lives conveying *their* vision of reality — Lovecraft, Baudelaire, Ewers, Maupassant, Ligotti, et. al. Thomas Ligotti once referred to these writers as “mutants,” which is as good a description as any. I don’t care if your personal vision is scary or not. Just don’t be ordinary.

The Nightmare Factory

Of course this is not the best stance to adopt if one hopes to strike it rich as a Name Author. The less conventional your fiction, the greater your chances of professional disaster and heartache. But I honestly have no interest in producing fiction simply to entertain. There should be engagement and pleasure, yes, but not pat amusement. If there’s no fire behind the story, I simply won’t write it.

In short: I’m glad I have a day job.

HT: While book sales have been steadily declining, specialty presses such as subterranean and centipede press continue to sell out of their lavishly illustrated, high quality tomes/reissues of writers of weird fiction. Proving that even in the age of ebooks there is an un-lessened demand for collectible books with spot illustrations and art-books.

So keeping this in mind a/what are some of your favorite book covers and b/what artist would you like to do a cover and spot illustrations for one of your books?

RG: I’ve been extremely fortunate as far as cover art goes. My books have been graced by the work of two of my favourite contemporary artists: Harry O.Morris and J.K. Potter. Harry has actually done two of my books and we just may be pairing up yet again in the near future.

In terms of other artists, I’d love to collaborate with the American baroque painter Michael Hussar one day. His work is stunning and I think we share a similar aesthetic.

HT: And finally in closing with less than 9 months left in 2012, a/What can we look forward to from you this year and b/what are you looking forward to this year(could be anything, your call)?

RG: This fall Hippocampus Press will release AT FEAR’S ALTAR, my fourth full-length collection of fiction. The book is being edited and Introduced by the preeminent weird fiction scholar and critic S.T. Joshi. To be working with S.T. is definitely a watershed moment for this writer.

I’ve stories coming out in the Lovecraftian anthology AKLONOMICON, a Thomas Ligotti tribute anthology called THE GRIMSCRIBE’S PUPPETS, and another entitled SEASONS IN CARCOSA, which is an anthology of stories set in the
mythos of Robert W. Chambers’s THE KING IN YELLOW.

[Go here to read the writer who influenced Lovecraft or buy the books here: The King in Yellow and Other Horror Stories

The King in Yellow (Mystery & Supernatural) ]

There are a few other pieces in-progress, but I’m a very slow writer, so I don’t think there will be much more to add to the list for this year. Anyone who is interested in my comings and goings can visit my website at www.richardgavin.net.

Thanks for letting me blather on like this.

Charnel Wine – Memento Mori Edition

Omens

The Darkly Splendid Realm


I want to thank Richard Gavin first for his time, and second for the depth and richness of his responses. He has given me and, I believe. you dear reader… much to explore, to discover, to enjoy. Pay it forward by running out and supporting the writer’s past and upcoming books (definitely frequent his website as his upcoming work isn’t on Amazon yet, so keep checking his website), and feel free to use the attached links and treat yourself to books and films and the languid fictions that this week’s Monarch of Mayhem recommends.

WHAT I’M READING: Laird Barron’s OCCULTATION vs Richard Gavin’s OMENS

2011 was my year to introduce myself to quite a few new authors, particularly of the macabre. Two of those writers I contrast in this post: Laird Barron who has gained something of a reputation as a name in the Lovecraft tinged field of fiction, and Richard Gavin, who has made very little noise, and I just stumbled across when surfing online.

Laird Barron’s book OCCULTATION, had much praise heaped on it, but finally read I found his attempt at weird fiction, somewhat lacking. Seemingly trying for the open-ended, obscure endings Aikman is known for, but without that writers capacity to make the journey entertaining and the ending compelling. Barron, for me, also lacks the beauty of phrasing of other writers of weird fiction, making his stories somewhat chore rather than charm.

In story after story, I found the protagonists not particularly interesting, and the ending unsatisfying. Final Verdict on OCCULTATION, it’s worth a look in the library, but not a purchase.

OMENS however, by Richard Gavin is something else altogether, it is engaging and captivating from page one. Richard Gavin having it all in this collection of stories… great prose/phrasing, imaginative stories, sometimes mysterious, sometimes harrowing, never less than page-turning. It’s a consistently addictive collection, some highlights being THE BELLMAN’S WAY and DANIEL. Final verdict… It’s a Buy!

Come back later for more of WHAT I’M READING! :)

Occultation

Omens