Posts Tagged Lovecraft

On the Death of a Man

I’ve been to Lovecraft’s grave.  My wife and I were in Providence for a long day and included it on the list of things to see and do.  Earlier in the day we’d climbed the steep roads of College Hill on a Lovecraft walking tour, visited the Athenaeum where Poe romanced Sarah Whitman and Lovecraft went to feel closer to his writing hero.  Later that night we got to enjoy WaterFire, one of the best reasons to visit the city.  Mid day had us driving blindly along winding roads in the Swan Point Cemetery with only vague directions.  There were no signs leading to the main Phillips monument, or to the smaller gravestone added decades later that said “Howard Phillips Lovecraft” and “I Am Providence.”  Ultimately it took someone waving us down, another pilgrim to the grave site.

It’s a simple stone, paid for by fans who felt he deserved something more than just the family obelisk that towers over it.  Fans graffiti it, leave tributes, or just stack a few stones on it.  The cemetery discourages them all.

We stood for a few quiet moments, took some pictures, and left.

I’m not sure how well you can read the tombstone there, it was a bad sun angle for photographing etched stone, but he died March 15, 1937.  75 years ago, today.  It was a painful death of intestinal cancer and malnutrition.

It’s hard to know what to say about Lovecraft.  Alright, it’s not really.  I have a book of his personal letters, just a portion of what is one of the most extensive lifetime epistolaries known, and what they show is a man with all his flaws.  He wrote about his stories, his ideas, his poems.  He also wrote about his prejudices, many of which go well above and beyond what can be excused by waving our hands and saying “it was a different time.”  He was racist, xenophobic, and slightly technophobic, even as he loved science.

He was, in short, not a man I think many of his modern fans would get along with over the course of a long conversation.

He has fans still today not for the man he was, but for the things he wrote.  He crafted short stories and poems that could only be described as weird and horrific.  He built on the ideas of Poe and Chambers, and in doing so created a subgenre of horror defined by his name, Lovecraftian.  Created a Cthulhu mythos that has spread beyond just stories and entered into the general public awareness.  His continued influence over the horror genre speaks to how his ideas so enthralled readers.  Because he wasn’t a great writer.  I always hate to say that, but it’s true.  I still go back and read him, though, not for his prose but for these dark themes he created of being so powerful they can only be seen as gods, but who don’t care at all about the men who worship them.  Horrid things that would bring about apocalypse without a second thought.  It’s an odd bleakness that speaks to something deep in the psyche.

And three quarters of a century ago, this man died.  A man of flawed opinions, of dubious skill, but of boundless imagination that still grips us today.

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Dialect in Dialogue

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  Which means the internet is full of “avast”s and “arr”s and “yoho”s and, I dunno, perhaps a “parlay” or two.  It’s largely an exercise in silliness, and while I don’t much see the point, I’m not going to tell people not to do it.  But it does dredge up a topic that drives me completely crazy as a reader.

Dialect used in dialogue.

I can only really approach this subject from the point of view of a reader.  It’s something I’ve never really tried to approach as a writer, at least not in any full fledged manner.  Yes, I’ve given characters distinctive voices, speech patterns, but never gone so far as to attempt to respell words based on the accent a character has had.  Why?  Because (a) I’ve seen it done badly more times than well, (b) I hate when I see it done badly, and (c) I have no expectation that it’s something I would do well.

Best example I can come up with for bad dialect?  I almost hate to do it, because I hate to pick on Lovecraft’s writing, but it’s old Zadok Allen from The Shadow Over Innsmouth.  I’m only going to present the first two paragraphs for reasons that should be obvious to any who know the story, and will be detailed in a moment for those who don’t.

      “Thar’s whar it all begun – that cursed place of all wickedness whar the deep water starts. Gate o’ hell – sheer drop daown to a bottom no saoundin’-line kin tech. Ol’ Cap’n Obed done it – him that faound aout more’n was good fer him in the Saouth Sea islands.

“Everybody was in a bad way them days. Trade fallin’ off, mills losin’ business – even the new ones – an’ the best of our menfolks kilt aprivateerin’ in the War of 1812 or lost with the Elizy brig an’ the Ranger scow – both on ’em Gilman venters. Obed Marsh he had three ships afloat – brigantine Columby, brig Hefty, an’ barque Sumatry Queen. He was the only one as kep’ on with the East-Injy an’ Pacific trade, though Esdras Martin’s barkentine Malay Bride made a venter as late as twenty-eight.

The occasional dropped ‘g’ I can put up with, but there is a level of attempted dialect through Zadok’s monologue that pulled me completely out of reading the story.  Which is a shame, as there’s a lot of necessary back story hiding among the “saoundin”s and the “Injy”s.  Doesn’t really help that he gets a 2,154 word monologue broken up by a short 32-word paragraph as he lowers his voice to a whisper.  And that’s before his second monologue of 2,227 words, giving a total of  nearly 4,500 words of heavy dialect crammed into an overall section of just under 5,000 words.  Obviously there’s deeper issues to the Zadok passage than just the dialect, but it does serve as a rather dense block of dialect for the reader to work their way through.

This is not me trying to come out and say dialect should always be avoided.  Largely because I hate to ever make edicts like that about any facet of writing.  I have seen dialect done fantastically well.  As a Wake Forest grad I’m required on my diploma to use Maya Angelou as an example of dialect done well, perhaps a master class on the subject.  It’s used to give each character distinctive but still readable voices, rather than throwing up walls of text that leave a reader pondering the intended pronunciation.

So, this is me speaking as a reader, consider what you’re doing.  Consider if you’re doing it well.  Have someone else read it and make sure the dialect is understandable to someone other than the author.  You should be doing this with every element of your writing, but perhaps nowhere is it more important than when dialect comes into play.  Because we as readers need to know what characters are saying, that’s the entire point of dialogue.  So we as writers need to ensure that they can be understood.  This gets exponentially important if the character needs to have any long stretches of dialogue, or is even the first person narrator of the story.

Yarr.

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The Ctrouble with Cthulhus

My name is DL, and I have a problem.

I’ve been aware of this problem for awhile.  Which is good, because I’ve had the problem much longer than I’ve been aware of it.  My problem is that I like to attempt Lovecraftian stories, but when I start down on them I enter into a miasma of filtering and distancing that I try to struggle out of.  But each time I think I’ve gotten my voice into the story, the temptations of the Lovecraft style pull me back down and leave me shouting from the bottom of a well, watching stories shoot by where people seem, and feel, and find, and appear, or appear to seem to feel to find out something that really they should have just found out.

This used to be my writing style for everything.  Bad characters drabbling along through a story that happened around them, all the while writing the equivalent of a making-of documentary, with my camera not focused on the actual action, but on someone else watching the action.  It’s no way to tell a story.

I’ve gotten better.  I’ve learned how to have active characters (force them to be active).  I’ve learned how to create details.  I’ve learned how to get into a story, tell a story in the first or third person, the present or the past tense.  Then I come up with a story that’s vaguely Lovecraftian and BOOM!  Everyone seems to feel things all over again.  And I end up with a story that I frustratingly know there’s a problem with, but not what that actual problem is.

Part of me wants to give up.  To walk away.  To just say I’m never going to have Nyaralathotep slinking his way through stories, have the Mi-Go dissecting my characters brains, or to have unspeakable horrors drive my hero slowly insane until the only options become living with what he has learned or reaching for the cold embrace of the grave.  But I don’t want to give up.  In a way I almost can’t give up.  I have these ideas, I want to write these ideas.  And in the end, its something I have to teach myself to do because all of that filtering is holding captive one of my favorite novels in progress: Conqueror Worm.  My main character seems the CRAP through that book, and it all has to be fixed if I even have any hopes of selling it.

Ah.

I’ve heard of these groups, but I never thought it would feel so good to get this all off my chest.  I’d always heard the first step towards recovery is admitting you have a problem.  I just never expected this group to be here.  But why do you call yourselves the Esoteric Order?

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Lovecraft Landmine: First Person

I did it again this weekend.  I opened up a blank Word document, got to work on a fresh Lovecraftian piece, and started the same way I always start.  By writing the word “I”.

Look, there are plenty of great things about first person, and I’ve written some stories I absolutely love in first person.  There’s some great Lovecraftian fiction written from first person out there.  But there’s something about when I start a story that way that causes it to fall apart.  My problem?  It’s so much the style of the original stories that I start wandering down the path of bad habits and bad prose, forgetting that it was the ideas of Lovecraft that have kept him relevant for so long, not the actual style.

I start in with the first person, and after that flows the bizarre adjectives, the purple prose, the over wrought text, that urging temptation to end the story as some sort of final written confessional from a man about to succumb to his own madness.  Which means along the way I lose my voice, I lose the character’s voice, and I end up trapped in a world of bad writing.

This is my own personal demon, and I’m aware of that.  This post is about me airing the demon out, making myself as aware of it as I can, so that maybe next time I’ll remember before I’ve written a few hundred words that I now hate and will delete to restart in third person when I get home.

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Fortnightcap: They Came

They Came

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

Creative Commons License

They came.  Their ships slipped out of space, moving sideways through slits in reality no one had ever noticed.  Horrid things with slender necks and small heads, ringed with writhing tentacles.  They spoke in a language that broke microphones, hurt ears, caused interference to air traffic control radars.  They slipped through the world not caring for such things as geometry or physics.  They had evolved far beyond either and cared only for dark malevolence.

We always hoped that the aliens would be friendly, that they would teach us and bring us out of darkness into a new enlightenment.  These things taught us, but only new depths of pain and madness.  Mankind has become subservient to these things, this fungus that has spread to Earth and left it a place of rot and decay.  There is no release.  They made us immortal out of some hideous spite.  There is no worse fate, as it destroys all others, leaving us with only unending horror.

Our nations crumbled into anarchy as even our best and brightest proved no match for the forces that held us down.  Resistance was fomented but would fall apart just as quickly.  The last time I can even remember a harsh word being spoken against our new overlords was a century ago.  Resistance requires spirit, and our spirit as a race has been so far broken, few can even remember the concept.

They came not from trillions of miles away, but from our own solar system.  From a planet that we never knew existed, never even know could exist.  While our attentions were upon Pluto, there was far beyond a frozen rock that birthed creatures hardened to such extremes that we could not handle what they had become.  For while we could deny Pluto, we could not deny Yuggoth.

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.

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