Simon Strantzas is one of the most impressive voices in the weird fiction genre, proving himself time and again as an author, and last year as an anthology editor. He has four short fiction collections under his belt (Beneath the Surface, Cold to the Touch, Nightingale Songs, Burnt Black Suns) and one edited anthology (Shadows Edge). I recently reviewed his new collection from Hippocampus Press, Burnt Black Suns. Previous reviews of his collections can be found here and here, and a previous interview can be found here.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me Simon.
It's my absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me!
This month marks the publication of your fourth short fiction collection, Burnt Black Suns. How does this collection differ from your others? If you were to sum up each of your collections in one sentence each, what would those sentences look like?
BURNT BLACK SUNS was crafted, from the beginning, to be a sort of sequel to my first collection. That book, BENEATH THE SURFACE, found its inspriation primarily in the works of Thomas Ligotti, with threads of Lovecraft, Lieber, and Aickman woven through. I've always been pleased with its focus on a particular mode, but not as enthused with the book's reception from some corners. On occassion, the book was criticized for being too consistent in its bleak tone, so I thought I might try to revisit the idea, only with something more reflective of where I am as writer a decade later. BURNT BLACK SUNS shifted in focus a bit while writing it, but I managed to maintain its exploration of the sort of weird fiction I most enjoy, while finally showing curious readers what my work is like on a bigger canvas.
Summing up the previous collections is difficult, because they each have their own flavour. If BENEATH THE SURFACE was Ligottian bleak, then COLD TO THE TOUCH was Aickmanesque in its subtlety. NIGHTINGALE SONGS was perhaps a hybrid of the two, but one where my individual voice, I think, started to emerge over my influences. BURNT BLACK SUNS, thus, finally feels wholly me at this point in time.
While all of these stories are entirely your own, several of them pay homage to weird fiction maestros of the past, most notably Lovecraft (Thistle's Find), Ligotti (By Invisible Hands) and Chambers (Beyond The Banks of the River Seine). Two of these appeared in tribute anthologies. Do you find it more difficult or restraining to write a story for an anthology of the sort?
Well, considering "Thistle's Find" first appeared in a Lovecraftian book, I argue it, too, is part of a tribute (though Lovecraft's work has become so pervasive we tend to forget this). But your point is taken. I don't find it terrible different to write for anthologies of these sorts because I don't concern myself too much with playing in anybody's wheelhouse. I don't write pastiche or mimicry. Instead, I find something in the writer's work that speaks to me, and I simply explore it. Other than a few trappings, I like to think one might read any of these stories and not immediately make the connection that they were written as tributes. I hope they stand on their own. If anything, I find it less interesting to write toward themed anthologies. Unlike a tribute book, which offers a range of a writer's inspirations to draw from, a themed anthology often has one focus, and writing something that not only entertains but also doesn't have its central mystery ruined by the nature of the book can often be tricky.
What attracts you to writing not just horror, but more specifically weird fiction?
For me, there's always been a dark beauty to the horrific. It's a genre of images, which makes it a perfect vessel for themes and metaphors. Horror is capable of telling story that encompass the full range of the human condition, and often its fantasy element allows it to do so in a more direct way than non-genre fiction can manage. The weird—insofar as I define it—deals with the sort of philosphical underpinnings that appeal to me most. The twin ideas of the malignant outer and the unknowable other. Weird fiction simply interests me more than much of general horror fiction, and other than its sister sub-genre, the Strange, it's where I want expend the bulk of my energies exploring.
What are your thoughts on the current state of weird fiction? Some say we are in a golden age. Do you agree or disagree with that sentiment?
I think it's far too early to be making sweeping statements. What I can agree is that, for the moment, weird fiction is gaining attention in the North American market. We're seeing it with the canonization of Lovecraft, with television shows like True Detective, and the rise in authors working in this section of the genre. But it's not a universal thing. Travel to Britain and Europe, and I think you'll notice the Strange is leading the way in revitalizing the genre. I imagine this only makes sense, based on the general temperament of the Americas versus Europe. We tend to like our grostesqueries on display, not hidden behind a curtain. I feel blessed to be working alongside so many writers who are writing in this so-called "weird wave", and even more so that many of them are my friends. It's a fabulous time to be writing.
Do you have any plans to write any novel length fiction or do you foresee yourself staying with the shorter form for awhile?
As I write longer pieces, I begin to see how a novel might be forged, but I'm not convinced I'm the one to do it. That said, I will admit that though I haven't yet conquered the short story to my satisfaction, after more than a decade working in the form I've begun to get curious about what else is out there for me to do. It also doesn't escape me that despite the higher notice short fiction has been recieving as of late, the novel still rules the publishing world, and if I want to move beyond where I am now, it's likely I'll need to have a few novels under my belt. Unlike earlier in my career, the idea of this does not fill me with dread, though who knows what time will bring. I suspect before I retire, I'll have written at least one. But it won't be soon.
There are many recurring themes in your work. Liminal places, characters suffering from grief or loss. What about these themes, and others that you revisit, are important to you?
I don't think I truly know, or would want to. There is something in my mindset, regardless of how practical it can be day to day, that hungers for the unknown, that wants to imagine another place where the worst of our world comes from. Perhaps it's simply my way of trying to understand a random universe—ascribe meaning through otherworldly sources, attribute the hand of fate to ill-meaning gods. But along with this, I'm fascinated with the minutae of personal existenace, and how those outer forces affect it. Author T. E. Grau once refered to what I wrote not as cosmic fiction, but as micro-cosmic. That strikes me as good a description as any for what I do.
Besides being one of the genres finest authors, you've also proven yourself as a fine editor with the wonderful Shadows Edge. Do you plan to edit any more anthologies?
Thank you, but I hardly did much with SHADOWS EDGE. The truth is that if you get a good enough group of writers involved, your own work is fairly minimal. Luckily, I was able to coerce a few ringers to write me the sort of fiction I like to read. That others may have liked it, too, is lucky. Satisfying, but lucky. As for editing another book... well, I have hopes to do another next year, but that will be my last. I really don't enjoy the editing process all that much, and would rather focus my energies on writing my own work than editing another's.
Thanks for your time Simon, it was a pleasure.
The feeling is more than mutual.