I've just been told that some news regarding my writing has recently appeared on the Internet. In short, this is it, that Eibonvale Press, as announced on their blog a couple of months back, will be releasing a collection of my fiction under the title, Defeated Dogs.
On the blog, the collection is described as retrospective. This is true - there's at least one story in it that dates from last century. However, all of the work will be previously uncollected, though some of it will have been published in journals, as chapbooks, or anthologised, etc. I'm slightly hazy on some of the details, which I'll fill in on this blog as they become clearer, but I think the collection should contain between 11 and 13 stories.
I was rather hoping the title of the collection would also be 'retrospective', so to speak, but judging by my life at present, it's turning out to be rather topical, worst luck. Partly I don't mind - I like dogs and feel myself getting doggier with the passing years. Defeat, on the other hand, is... well, I don't think I'll get into that before breakfast.
Anyway, watch this space, as they say. I'm also hoping to be able to announce some other publishing news, non-Eibonvale related, that is, before very long.
Thanks to Brendan Connell for the following:
I haven't written anything here for a long time, because I have been enormously busy, but the imminent re-release of my fourth collection of short fiction, All God's Angels, Beware! seemed like a good excuse to brush off a few cobwebs, etc., especially as, with a post of this nature, no planning is required. So let me begin.
All God's Angels, Beware! was first published by Ex Occidente Press in 2009 as a limited hardback edition. I believed, at the time, that it constituted the best of my short fiction so far, and I had high hopes for it. From what I can gather, it actually sold very poorly, and no reviews appeared anywhere till over a year later, the first review being on The Stars at Noonday, in May 2011. (I tell a lie - Des Lewis was the first to review the book, here.) The review situation is beginning to change with the re-release imminent. Here, for instance, is a review at Publishers Weekly, and here is one at The Agony Column. Anyway, for various reasons, I felt, after the initial release of the book, that I had just tossed the condensed essence of years - the best, if one can call them that - of my life into an open grave.
Since the stories in the book come from various periods of my life, I won't write here about the period in which the book was first being prepared for publication, other than to say I was living in a cottage in Wales, and one or two of the more recent stories reflected that fact. And now, the sleevenotes:Troubled Joe
In the novel "Remember You're a One-Ball!" and the novella Shrike there occurs a metaphor about a ghost condemned to remain on Earth until his story is told. This metaphor, rather like the ghost itself, kept coming back to me - haunting me, you might say - and I decided that I really had to give it a story of its own. 'Troubled Joe' is that story. I am perhaps not big on the idea of favourites, but I tend to think that this is one of my own favourites amongst what I have written. The title, as will be obvious to any who actually have access to the text, is a reference to a song by The Smiths. There are other references throughout the text, which are named, and which, for that reason, I shan't list. However, I wonder how many people will spot the Kenneth Williams reference that I put in somewhere.The Were-Sheep of Abercrave
Really, I just wrote this as a joke. I wanted to try and write a completely pointless story, of the kind sometimes referred to as a 'shaggy dog story'. I was interested in playing with the form of something pointless. I suppose it's like juggling or tap-dancing or something. I wasn't sure whether to submit this for publication, but I did, and, well, here it is.Ynys-y-Plag
A reader very kindly pointed me in the direction of some Algernon Blackwood that I hadn't read, and it reignited my interest in the weird and supernatural, that is, in the atmospheric and eerie mode of supernatual fiction. I began to get some ideas that were making me physically shiver and look over my shoulder, there in that Welsh cottage, and I thought, therefore, that I might be able to make a decent contribution to this particular literary tradition. I drew very heavily on the local landscape for this story. Actually, now that I think about it, this and the previous story were twins. They are the issue of one egg. I recall that I realised in the early stages that I was really working on two ideas, not one. Having said that, it's a bit hazy now. Anyway, I remember separating out some of what I was working on into the 'shaggy dog story' idea, and the rest into something less comedic. I do see the stories as a kind of diptych.Karakasa
I can't remember much about the genesis of this story except that I wanted to do something kind of future-Orientalist, with shades of Maruo Suehiro about it, and that the folkloric concept of 'tsukumogami' was the perfect way to bring everything into focus. At the time, I had the sense that this was a vehicle in which I could 'say everything'. I don't know if I succeeded. Anyway, this is one of those stories in which I was trying something a bit different, I suppose.A Cup of Tea
I'm not sure there's much to say about this one in terms of background. As I recall, I'd planned it out in a particular way, but, as soon as I wrote the first paragraph, the word "you" appeared, and I realised that I had to write the whole thing as a letter, addressed to the off-stage character. I think this realisation probably made this piece. Oh, the title is kind of a reference to some of my Japanese influences, too. I think this was the first story that I managed to place in Postscripts, since when I've placed so many there you'd almost believe they like my stuff!Asking For It
For the most part my stories tend to sprawl. I could try and give an explanation of why here, but I suppose I'm not in the dock, yet. Anyway, this idea occurred to me as something that could be executed quite briefly and neatly, in the kind of O Henry style that I hate so much. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that there's a kind of neatness in some of the shorter works of Dazai Osamu that I was emulating here. I'm tempted to talk about the ending, but that would involve a spoiler. Naturally, I drew on my time in Japan for this story, but I spent more time in Kyoto than Tokyo. I hope my lack of familiarity with the latter doesn't show too much.The Fox Wedding
This was something I must have written in the late nineties. Anyway, it had an online publication in April 2000, so it was written before then (and must be the oldest tale in the collection). When I was first putting together material for this collection back in 2008, I dragged this story up from my hard-drive, and was pleased to find it pretty solid. However, soon after the collection was published, I decided that I completely hated this story. I seem to change my mind a lot like this on what I write. Since I know how much I change my mind, I am, these days more inclined to leave decisions as to what goes in and what gets discarded up to an editor. If I were to give this story a bad review, it would be something like: "A hackneyed cobbling together of Japanese folklore with modern setting. The materials are far from seamless, and often fail to cohere. Like a badly produced song, this story features the histrionic vocals of an unpleasant misogynistic narrator rather too high in the mix, with the other instruments (cliched Orientalist ambience and cod 'weird tale') veering from low to high with little regard for the overall shape of the piece." (Despite what Paul Fussell thinks, there are plenty of writers who are able to critique themselves.) I actually think this story has a kind of brittle quality because - I am reconstructing events in my mind - I was just beginning to get real control of my prose, but was still unsure of the other elements I was working with. The prose therefore kind of crystallises, rather unpleasantly, some of the faults of my writing. I suppose this is appropriate to the subject matter, but it's not a story I can currently look back on, or leaf through, with any sense of satisfaction.
Anyway, I revised this once at the time of the first edition of All God's Angels, Beware! and have revised it again for the second. I think the plot concept is a bit stronger now. Someone suggested to me that I shouldn't leave 'Asking For It' and 'The Fox Wedding' next to each other in the book. I can understand why, and might even have acted on this, but then I read one too many Jezebel articles and decided that if people want something to hate, I should give it to them in concentrated form.Mise en Abyme
This really was a kind of metafictional experiment. I had the idea of writing a new story for a chapbook that Rainfall Books were going to bring out of my work (The Psychopomps and Others). The idea was that I would write the story, print it out, cut it into one hundred pieces, and glue those pieces into the front pages of the one hundred copies of the chapbook. Then I would post an announcement on the internet (on Thomas Ligotti Online, and I think on my blog, too) instructing readers to write their fragments there, so see if together they could piece together the whole story. I think that two or three readers actually did this, but no more than that. 'Media' (books, the Internet, etc.) can give you the illusion that people are actually listening to you, but as we increasingly realise, a hundred 'hits' on your website doesn't mean a hundred people have read your words. It probably means two people have, if you're lucky. This principle seems to extend to every area of life. For instance, ask a homeless person how many people actually stop to give money and/or talk. That's just the way it goes, and maybe we shouldn't get bitter... until we are reminded of those things that the whole world goes catnip crazy for. I won't mention any names.
Anyway, I hope the story, in its complete form, is not too meta to be enjoyable.Italiannetto
This was written in record quick time for me - under a week. I think, in fact, it was four days, but I might be misremembering. At one point I was writing page after page (usually I write three pages in one sitting at the very most), and this particular sitting provided most of the story. Also during that sitting, I wept profusely as I wrote. This is also unusual. All in all, this story is out of the ordinary for me. It is also definitely one of my favourites among all I have written. I don't really identify much with being intellectual, but I have been 'accused' (if that's the right word) of being intellectual, and I can understand why. This story is not intellectual. It's not even ironic. It is simply something that 'happened' rather than something I 'thought up'; I want more of my stories to be like this. I believe Woody Allen has said that of all his films, The Purple Rose of Cairo is the one that has been closest to his original vision. So far in my writing, 'Italiannetto' is my Purple Rose of Cairo.Suicide Watch
Perhaps I shouldn't say this, but in retrospect, this appears to me as something of a credo piece. I was writing this actually at the time the collection was originally being put together. It was one of a number of low points in my life. I thought: "The only way to deal with a low point like this is to write - write anything - just write." And so that's what I did. I had no idea at the time - therefore - whether the results would be at all readable. The story first appeared on Thomas Ligotti Online, where, I believe, it may still be read. I think the editor of the collection read it there, and suggested it replace two or three stories that had been slated for inclusion, as it was the superior work. So, that's what happened. I don't think this story is perfect, but I'm close to being satisfied with it now. If I dare mention Morrissey at this point, there's a bit in the documentary The Importance of Being Morrissey, where he says, "I've left my fingerprints somewhere, and that's good enough." Somewhat in that vein, I've had the thought recently that if I get into terrible financial trouble now and have nowhere to live and am sent to work in the salt mines, that at least this story, 'Suicide Watch' will still exist somewhere for people to read, and that mere fact will make me a tiny bit freer. But perhaps I'll hate it next year?
Well, I've spent too much time on this, when other things demand my attention. Before I go, however, I'd like to thank Chris Conn Askew who has provided for the re-release what is my favourite cover for any of my books so far. Thanks.
One of the things I'm proud of (if you hadn't noticed), is my association with Kodagain. I love Saša's somehow-traditional, somehow-weird pop sensibility, his simple melodies, sometimes immediately catchy, sometimes as subtle as patterns in desert sands. I love his harmonies, his ability to knock out one song after another, and for each of them, small and compact, to somehow have the power to unfold over time.
Listen to this, for instance:A Very Strange Relationship by kodagain
To me this sounds like a classic single from the sixties or seventies - not like a copy, but like it's actually a missing piece of pop history. I wrote the lyrics for this quite quickly, inspired by a line from Joe Simpson Walker's transgressive tour-de-force, Jeanette, and although the clues in the lyrics themselves were perhaps very few, Saša managed to strike exactly the right mood here. I can't imagine the lyrics sung any other way now.
Here's another one with a great, natural melody. I'm actually not sure if this is a cover, although Saša sometimes covers lyrics and changes the melody:GHOST by kodagain
Here's one that features a poem by Robert Creeley, with what I think is an extraordinarily beautiful musical arrangement:The way by kodagain
Somehow or other, I've managed to collaborate with Kodagain now on over one hundred songs - I've actually lost count. Anyway, I was listening to some of our collaborations stored on my hard-drive just now and was struck by a repeated message in the lyrics. For instance, this from 'Failures':
For some years now, I've been on life support.
No one visits,
No one knows.
And this from 'No one Has a Song':
Why are you all so preoccupied
With everything but the soul
Who's starving at your side?
I know even now you will evade
My simple, single heartfelt question
Hmmm. I probably shouldn't go on giving examples. At this link you can hear 'Valediction', which is quite possibly my favourite collaboration with Kodagain. It's really degrading to explain oneself, is it not? I should not do it. The story of my life, if I have written it, is 'Troubled Joe' in the collection All God's Angels, Beware!
As you may know, Tartarus Press re-released Morbid Tales as a paperback earlier this month. In the post I have just linked to, I mused upon that collection's place in my life from a kind of biographical point of view. I'd like to write a little more about the collection. I'm not going to 'review' it - still not going to review it - because, apart from anything else, my opinion of my own work goes up and down all the time. For instance, after being reasonably satisfied upon re-reading some of the stories, I then re-read another - one I've sometimes heard described as one of my best - and found it to be unbearably dreadful. I won't say which one. On such occasions, all I can do is think, "I'll make up for it by writing better stories in the future", and hope that other people don't view the work in question as dimly as I do.
Anyway, this time I want to look a little at the genesis of each story. I hope this will be of interest regardless of the merits of the tales themselves - it is to me.
The MermaidThis is a very early piece. That is, early on in my development after I got to the stage where I was writing things with the old beginning-middle-end (before that I'd largely been writing things with beginnings, middles, but no end, which simply petered out, and before that, I wrote things that did end, but I was in my teens and younger and those things are beyond salvaging). Everything of mine that has been published was, I think I'm right in saying, written since 1996, when I entered Durham University. I spent the second year (1997/98) in Japan, and I must either have written this story there, or soon after my return, I think. I really don't remember much about writing it apart from the fact that it is an early one. There was 'The Legacy', and then (if I remember aright) there was 'The Psychopomps' and then there was 'The Mermaid'. I think I wrote 'The Psychopomps' in Japan, or after Japan, and 'The Mermaid' was definitely after that. Robert Smith once said, comparing himself favourably to Morrissey, "At least I have two songs, 'Faith' and 'Love Cats'." I am sure that at some point (a long time ago now), I thought, "At least I have two stories, 'The Psychopomps' and 'The Mermaid'." 'The Psychopomps', of course, represents my penchant for all that is majestically grey and bleakly Gothic; 'The Mermaid' represents more my fondness for the colourful, and what I am forced to call 'the erotic'. Even early on, I was really trying to make progress and move into different areas with each story, though this may not be apparent to the reader, I suppose. But for me, 'The Mermaid' was a very different vista to the two Gothic tales I'd just penned, and I was glad of it - glad to have opened up a new vista.
Influences? M. John Harrison, Takahashi Rumiko, various naughty Taschen books, etc.
I think I'm right in saying that I had not read The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea (by Mishima Yukio) at the time that I wrote this, but even if I had, the whole story is based on the plot of a short narrative poem I'd written much earlier. In the poem, the narrative, as I recall, ended with the incident that is similar to a certain incident in the Mishima novel. Why Cousin X? For the life of me, I don't know. It's just something that came to me, that I had to refer to the main character as 'Cousin X' throughout. This and the preceding story both rely heavily on remembered Devon scenery.
Influences? I don't remember anything specific, but perhaps Mishima.
Now, the curious thing is, it is sometimes the lesser stories you remember most about. This, by most accounts I've heard, and by my own estimation, is a lesser story. In fact, I was surprised it made the collection when other stories I rated more highly didn't. The story is based on an actual folk tale that I was familiar with in childhood from one of those Peter Haining books, if memory (again) serves. Very early on in my writing development, I knew that I had to tackle the difficult question of plot. And this was a difficult question for me. One of the things I did, to tackle this, when I was sixteen and at A-level college, was to re-write the folk tale from the Peter Haining book with lots of flowery language. (I thought this kind of thing would give me an understanding of structure.) That first version was about two pages long, and got printed in the college magazine. I remember some girl (I'm not going to go into the background, as it's too long) telling me that if she could write like that she'd never be depressed. I used words like "eidolons" in it and stuff like that. Later I cut the story down to about fifty words and translated it into Japanese. For whatever reason, it seemed to be a story I liked playing about with. Later again, in Taiwan (at the age of 28 or 29), perhaps because I'd been asked to submit something to an anthology, I thought of re-working it yet again. And so I did. I think I was asked to cut the wordcount, and I cut it a couple of times. But it's the longest version that ended up in Morbid Tales.
Influences? Peter Haining must get some credit. Also, for the final version, Mishima.
Almost always, this is referred to incorrectly as 'The Lake'. Before I'd read Mishima in the original, I read his collection Death in Midsummer in English. The opening words are, "A. Beach". I thought, "Why is there a full stop after 'A'? How is that rendered in Japanese?" And this was repeated throughout - the full stop after the 'A'. I thought it was some kind of deliberate play with punctuation to give a sinister, deadening effect. Much, much later, I realised it just meant that the 'A' stood for the name of the beach, which began with 'A'. Anyway, I wanted that sinister, deadening effect in something I wrote, and I was thinking of that when I began taking notes for 'A Lake'.
'A Lake' is a typical horror story, pretty much. That's what I wanted to write. I wanted to 'do Stephen King'. It's also pretty Lovecraftian, at a time when I could get into being Lovecraftian. Ligotti? Probably. William Hope Hodgson? Probably. Incidentally, there was a lake like this, just as I describe, with the dead fish on the shore, in Japan. I took notes. I also used bits and pieces I'd heard about other lakes in Japan, in which countless numbers of people had committed suicide.
Influences? I've already named them. Can't think of any others.
I do remember how this happened. I was at university and a friend of mine there (the friend who introduced me to the work of Dazai Osamu) proposed we both write a story on the same theme, which was someone with the ability to stop time. So we did. This one was my response to the challenge. The fact is, though, that I'd always wanted to write a story on that theme. I remember that years before this I'd read a sniffy review of some novel that went, "A man discovers the secret of stopping time... and uses it to put his hand up women's skirts." That sounded to me like an utterly fantastic idea for a novel. So, this was me, in a minor way, and late (as always) getting in on that idea. It's my, "I wish I'd written that... Oh, I just have now" story. I haven't read that other novel, though. You know the one I mean, though, right?
And I remember this. I was in Japan. It wasn't so long after my other early stories, such as 'The Psychopomps', etc. I was wandering the campus grounds of Gunma University. I had some imagery for a story... a tattoo... a knife... a boy... How did it all fit together? In the space of one hour, the whole thing came to me. I went over it and over it in my head making sure everything was in place. That was it - I had it. I had the whole thing. I could write plots! Not only that, this story was moving away from traditional horror and even fantasy tropes like the mermaid, and into something that seemed much more simply me. I was very pleased. I had - I felt - made a breakthrough. It hardly ever happens like that.
I'm not one hundred per cent sure, but I think I wrote this in Devon, during summer holidays, while I was still at uni... or maybe not. Maybe it came a bit later. Anyway, I do know that I wanted to write something short, because all my stories were too long, and the magazines I knew didn't accept stories of over five thousand words, which all my stories were. On top of that, everyone was - still is - always saying about how you need to cut down all the time, whittle, hack, reduce, etc. etc. So, I thought I'd better learn to write stuff that was short. I think that the image came to me of a chess game, and of wanting to lose, and I thought I could write a reasonable vignette, with something like a twist to it, and this was the result.
It's a bit scary to me how little I remember about writing some of these stories. I don't know when I wrote this except that the very earliest it could have been would be 1998. I'm guessing it was more like 2000, possibly even 2002/2003. Now I think of it, it could be one of the latest pieces in the collection. The latest, perhaps. I suppose I had the idea of doing a very Japanese thing and writing something that had a lovely quiet melancholy with something nasty and twisted at the end. And that was pretty much how I was feeling in those days, anyway, not that anyone cared or noticed. Perhaps it doesn't need saying, but the locations are modelled on Durham University. Thomas Ligotti said he liked the title.
Influences? Mishima Yukio. Higuchi Ichiyo. Dazai Osamu. Probably Ligotti, too, by this time, I think.
Basically, all the stories in this collection were written either in the nineties, or drawing so heavily on memories of my life in the twentieth century, that they really should be considered as being set in the nineties at the latest - the pre-internet world. This also holds true for the work in Rule Dementia! and for "Remember You're a One-Ball!". I think I kind of started to catch up with the 21st century in Shrike. It was always problematical to me how I could possibly write an aesthetically pleasing story with computers and stuff in it, as, to me, they had entirely ruined the world aesthetically. But I think I'm getting to grips with it now.
I'm not sure really what to think about Morbid Tales now except that, like so many other things, it has become a fact of my history. I could have made particular, from the infinite vastness of my imagination - or so I would like to think - almost anything else. But it turned out to be this. I have a notion that it's only by navigating the seas of readership (can a ship - readership - be a sea?) that I can really get a firm idea of whether I'm any good at writing... but then again, even if I'm not, I probably won't stop. But... God, I hope that I can find the time and the energy and the mental resources to make use of what I've hopefully learned so that in the next ten or twenty years, before I go senile or I'm eaten by specially trained baboons that hunt down those with 'irrational' genes, I may, in fact, write a huge shitload of work that justifies the idea that I chose to manifest specifically this out of infinite imaginative potential. Help me, if you feel like it.
Addendum: I'm beginning to get the feeling that 'The Mermaid' might have been the second thing I wrote in my post-1996 phase of finishing my stories. That is, the story straight after 'The Legacy', in which case, it may have come before Japan. If I had my manuscripts here, I could tell by the dates.
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