In my last post I reviewed The Strange Dark One: Tales of Nyarlathotep by W.H. Pugmire. The collection contains all of his best stories dealing with Nyarlathotep, The Crawling Chaos, a mysterious being created by H.P. Lovecraft. Many of the stories are also set in Pugmire's Sesqua Valley, and they all show the relationship of this mysterious place with the Strange Dark One. All of the stories are excellent and showcase Pugmire's usual beautiful prose.
I contacted Wilum and asked if he'd be interested in doing a small interview, the very first interview on this blog, to which he was kind enough to agree to.
Readers unfamiliar with Pugmire (shame on you!) have been missing out on the Lovecraftian prose-poet extraordinaire. Wilum writes tales that manage to combine beauty and the grotesque in such a perfect manner. Any fan of Lovecraft's works should add Pugmire's many collections to his/her library.
Now, on to the interview!
JS: Of all the Great Old Ones, Nyarlathotep stands out to me for his direct interactions with humans. What about Nyarlathotep fascinates you?
WHP: I think Nyarlathotep appeals to me because I find him extremely haunting and mysterious. I'm not really into monsters such as Cthuhlu or Yog-Sothoth (although the cosmic, non-dimensional aspects of Yog-Sothoth intrigue me and I may deal with that when I write my novel inspired by THE LURKER AT THE THRESHOLD), and the spectral aspect of Nyarlathotep is fun to play with as an author. I love to write about demons as opposed to ogres, as they have more character, and my tales are very character-oriented. With Nyarlathotep, I can write many times about him and yet keep his aspect mysterious, his motives vague. It's important not to let such a creature become too concrete, otherwise you will kill its mystique. I think I have tried, with my character Simon Gregory Williams, to create a character who has many similarities with Nyarlathotep, who is a being of enigmatic origin, not easily fathomed.
JS: Many of the stories in The Strange Dark One take place in Sesqua Valley. How would you describe Sesqua Valley and it's inhabitants to a new reader?
WHP: Sesqua Valley is my combination of Lovecraft's Dunwich and Dreamlands. When I first invented the valley, in the early 1970s, I was a clueless kid enamored of the Cthulhu Mythos. I had been influenced by Derleth's TALES OF THE CTHULHU MYTHOS and Carter's LOVECRAFT: A LOOK BEHIND THE CTHULHU MYTHOS about that which constituted a story set in the Mythos. Sesqua, then, was just a place where I could bring in the Mythos and write about cool weird Lovecraftian stuff. I was lucky in that the valley was inspired by my youthful visits to North Bend, where I went each summer to spend two weeks with my cousins. I loved that town then, and was captivated by its twin-peaked mountain; so I knew, when I began to think about my own Mythos location, that it would be a Lovecraftian version of North Bend. In time, as I matured as a writer, I began to realize its potential as an imaginative realm. My white twin-peaked mountain became my personal Cthulhu, this titanic thing of awesome cosmic majesty (when Bob Knox did the cover for THE FUNGAL STAIN AND OTHER DREAMS I had him represent Mount Selta looking like Cthulhu). I had night-gaunts visit the valley in my earliest tales, but their being there was a mystery. Then I read in Lovecaft that the forest of the Dreamlands touches the world of men at two places--and I decided that one of those two places would be Sesqua Valley. That's why Nyarlathotep and the gaunts visit the valley so often--because their realm exists right next-door.
JS: What were the major inspirations behind Sesqua Valley and Simon Gregory Williams?
WHP: In Lin Carter's book, he writes that Derleth told him that young Ramsey Campbell "...made the mistake of attempting to use the familiar Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth locales without any real understanding or knowledge of the American landscape. Derleth sent them back with the suggestion that Campbell invent a British milieu for the stories..." So I thought about that and instantly knew that I would set my tales in a place inspired by our Snoqualmie Valley, and especially North Bend. As for the invention of Simon--I had mentioned a nameless tome of modern wizardry written by a chap named Simon Gregory Williams, but it never occurred to me of inventing a character of that name until I revised a very early story called "Candlemax," and at the story's conclusion I invented a wee scene in Sesqua Valley that briefly featured Simon. I was instantly attracted to the personality that I had given him--he's a total wanker--and felt lured to feature him in more stories. I had no idea he would completely take over, but that's his way. He is a creature of secret depths, and I really explored his being in my book, BOHEMIANS OF SESQUA VALLEY, where I strip away his bestial layers and expose the soul that he so often denies owning.
JS: Weird and Lovecraftian fiction seems to be in the midst of a Golden Age. Are there any modern authors or stories that really stand out to you as being necessary on any horror fan's bookshelf?
WHP: This really isn't a new thing. I think of the new Golden Age of Mythos writing as beginning with the works on Ramsey Campbell. Many of those delightful early tales were reprinted last year in PS Publishing's brilliant new edition of THE INHABITANT OF THE LAKE & OTHER UNWELCOME TENANTS. Ramsey's novel, THE DARKEST PARTS OF THE WOODS (Tor 2002) remains one of the really magnificent modern novels of Lovecraftian horror, a stunning work. Ramsey shewed us new ways, personal ways, to approach the Mythos as writers, and his influence has been keen. We have indeed entered into a Golden Age of weird fiction, and much of it is Lovecraftian. S. T. Joshi himself has written a spectacular novel of Lovecraftian horror, THE ASSAULT OF CHAOS, which I read in MS; it's to be published this year by Hippocampus Press, and it is dead good, original and masterful. The three main modern writers who have been influenced by Lovecraft and are writing exceptional work are Thomas Ligotti (well, he's retired from writing), Caitlin R, Kiernan and Laird Barron. We also have really fantastic editors who are approaching the Lovecraftian anthology with new attitude and understanding: Ellen Datlow, Ross E. Lockhart, and of course S. T.'s rad BLACK WINGS series.
JS: Do you have any works planned for 2013?
WHP: At the end of this month (January 2013), Dark Regions Press will publish ENCOUNTERS WITH ENOCH COFFIN, a book I co-wrote with Jeffrey Thomas. Jeff and I each wrote six of the twelve tales therein, creating a collection of 77,000 words. And it's some of Jeff's best writing. I was reading it over the other day and got very excited about how good the book is. I think DRP plans to publish it as limited edition hardcover, trade pb and ebook all at once. And just to-day my second book from Arcane Wisdom Press, BOHEMIANS OF SESQUA VALLEY, went up for pre-sale. It will be published at Walpurgisnacht, April 30, as limited edition hardcover. I plan on writing three books this year, one of which will be my first novel, my own "version" of Derleth's THE LURKER AT THE THRESHOLD. I also want to write a book of tales all of which are inspired in some way by the life and works of Oscar Wilde, and a new collection inspired (as was SOME UNKNOWN GULF OF NIGHT) by Lovecraft's Fungi from Yuggoth. Oh, honey, this old queen has gobs of books within her cracked skull that ache to be borne.
I myself am greatly anticipating all these new releases, and I once again thank Wilum for taking the time to answer my questions.
Arcane Wisdom Press puts out gorgeous books (I own several so can attest to that) and the new Pugmire volume should be no exception. Bohemians of Sesqua Valley can be pre-ordered HERE.
Wilum also has his own blog (which is definitely nicer to look at than my own) titled A View from Sesqua Valley.