Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Mask of Tamrel - Now FREE on Amazon!

Happy to announce that my dark-fantasy novel The Mask of Tamrel is now (finally!) available on Amazon for absolutely FREE. Follow the link below to download a copy, please share & review, & have a very very Happy New Year!

Get THE MASK OF TAMREL for Free on Amazon!

All Light in Winter Darkness,

~Scott C

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Way I Feel........

                                                   (Austin Osman Spare)


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hurl the Weaklings to the Fire! - A breakdown of thoughts on H.P. Lovecraft: A Biography

Okay, so I've been putting off talking about it directly. My reasons? It involves a complicated web of self-examination to discuss the topic, I suspect. The topic? L. Sprague De Camp's rather infamous biography of HP Lovecraft.

Not that it's a bad bio. Written back in the mid-70s, it was a sufficiently scholarly work to make the academics take notice, & is credited with finalizing Lovecraft's ascent to his portenteous position as the 20th century's 'Master o' the Macabre'. It's a pretty thick whomping volume, too; I got ahold of the slightly expurgated paperback version, which excludes 13,000 words of L. Sprague's sprawling (yet strangely unsympathetic) prose-narration of Lovecraft's life.

It's fascinating to watch L. Sprague berate Lovecraft across time and space, bellowing at him like some fulvous-hued gym coach. There are biggish chunks of the book where he breaks into open stigmatization, scolding Lovecraft for not attending to his craft in a properly professional manner, mocking his self-taught typing style, & getting all pissy at the dissolution of his marriage (the tongue clucking is nigh-audible). De Camp writes with a craftman's eye, yet seems to have little sympathy for making actual art & the eccentricities it can entail; his summarization of Lovecraft's work is that he produced a decent lump of 'entertainment' (his exact word), & that he could have produced a whole lot more 'entertainment' if he'd manned up, eaten more red meat, & transcended his constant crushing sense of self-doubt (this last, at least, I can agree with). Sprague writes like a hyper-actualized, accultured, heterosexual white male in full possession of his so-called faculties; never dogged by spurts of psychoses, always able to go to bed & rise at a decent hour, & just damn sick of all these crybabies whining on when they should be story-bombing every available publisher, invincible ego primed to absorb any and all rejections.

While I agree that ego transformation is important, & that the artist must be capable of opening themselves to rejection in order to 'make it'/deliver their work into the hands of their readers, I certainly wouldn't classify a hyper-sensitive visionary with rejection issues as anything less of an artist on account of his querulous tuning. Lovecraft was indeed a visionary; L. Sprague was a respected writer of many things, most notably sword n' sorcery yarns distending from Robert E. Howard. He was possessed of the ability to move in highly normative circles, & confesses at the beginning of the bio that he feels singularly qualified to write about Lovecraft due to his subject's alien nature contrasting sharply with his own. Herein lies the boundary between writing-as-craft & writing-as-art; De Camp frequently reiterates his disgust that Lovecraft should EVER think of himself as special, or better/different (the terms seem interchangeable) than other people, in any way. To him, writing is ultimately like spinning wool, with small consideration for Beauty or shamanic 'nonsense,' & certainly conferring no right to sacred exaltation. Conversely, to Lovecraft writing was an invocation, in which he strove to personify abstract extradimensional impressions, symbols, & arcane revelations seemingly received via atavistic astral/dreamtime states, psyche all-the-while in violent revolt against the norms of his age. Couple this to HP's insistence on being a cogwork rational materialist in waking life, & one wonders how he managed to stay sane at all.

In short, De Camp is just too damn normal to write a bio of Lovecraft (LeGuin says something similar to this in her review of the biography), & I'm glad to see that there's a more respected contemporary bio written by S.T. Joshi. And yet...it was a good book. I learned a lot from it, & had my first extended glimpses into Lovecraft's voluminous correspondence; it also allowed me to juxtapose two very antipodal creative personalities (biographer & biographee). I'd recommend Lovecraft: A Biography overall, though I'll confess I'm not feeling very compelled to branch out into De Camp's fiction. A man so insistent on marginalizing relative artistic value can't have a whole lot to say. Some of the garbage he spews is frustratingly prosaic - really, there's 'no such thing as good or bad art, it's all subjective'? Piffle. Dismissing high art on the premise that 'it's all high art to somebody' is lazy, callous, & self-suppressive thinking. I refuse to believe there's no difference between Shakespeare and Duck Dynasty, so out the window that reasoning goes.

In conclusion, I must acknowledge that Lovecraft was very (frustratingly) self-defeating. He reacted to the merest hint of rejection with paroxysms of innermost doubt, resulting in his writing tapering off towards the end of his life. De Camp is right to address these traits, and fully justified in using them as red-flag examples for other writers, though the reader wonders at the very personal wording he chooses at times. This highlights the quixotic modern mass fascination with Lovecraft: many of those who profess to have been inspired by HP wax long about how they hate his writing style, abhor his racism, & think of him as having more psychological than artistic value. Yet all of them are caught up in his universe, battling his monsters, invoking his gods, & crying out at the black uncaring abyss he postulated. Lovecraft accessed something far beyond mere 'entertainment;' he gave the 20th century a new-birthed pantheon. For that, for everything (especially his vestigial passion for tricorne hats & periwigs), I forgive him his myriad faults. Hopefully someone will similarly forgive me one day.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Final Revision of an Earlier bit of Draughtsmanship....

The Accomplice

The sparrow and the nightingale
- I am their ally.

Feather-friend to the crow &
the raven, to all carrion-feasters of the wing -
Kin to the owl bearing blessed night
on the tide of its wings -
I am brother to the songbird,
to the screech and sonar-silence of gloaming,
to the holy rite of kill and consumption,
to the mournful cry & low piping air of the loon.

(In short)

I am the accomplice of all-hallowed night,
Though the cock's crowing does not set me to flight.

Copyright Scott J. Couturier 2015

Friday, December 11, 2015

At Home With The Dead: The Dream-Quest for Definitive Obscurity

Greetings all. Up semi-bright (quite overcast outside, actually) and quasi-early, primarily due to joint pain I suspect is connected with the mutational weather. There's no snow (yet), & Northern Michigan is doing that decidedly un-charming brown thing, overset with short, pinched days of perpetual gray. Very big change from the bright burning sun of the desert, though ironically the weather is just as warm.

I've spent the last several hours combing the Internet for all things Weird Fiction, Lovecraftian & otherwise. As always, the sheer colossal (one could even say Cyclopean) breadth of information, blogs, magazines, & websites swamps my psyche. I feel lost in a vast, bustling, whispering maze of like-minded beings, incapable of getting a foothold or starting a seminal dialogue, awed & intimidated by the infrastructure of a vein of literature I didn't even know existed until a mere half-decade ago. It seems strange to me that the work of Lovecraft (hoary, phantasmagoric, occultish, obtuse, heavy, wet) has inspired such a vast, mainstream response; a testament to the truly primordial & extradimensional powers he contacted & named. There are Cthulhu collectibles of every sort (though I note no one seems preoccupied with endless reiterative depictions of Hastur or Nodens of the Great Abyss), endless collections & magazines dedicated to 'Weird' fiction (many make explicit the need to deal with Lovecraftian thematics), & message boards & Facebook groups aplenty, where the enthusiastic & truly dedicated can conjoin, ramble, & wax philosophic. Indeed, I find one of the key elements excluding me from deeper interactions is my relative newness to the genre o' the Weird (though my brain has been hardwired to its cosmic sensibilities from birth). I've only just finished reading the main bulk of Lovecraft (still have The Horror in the Museum to explore), & have only read the Hyperborea collection by Clark Ashton Smith (I'm ravenous for more, but his books are rare, flighty specimens. Gonna hafta order off of Amazon, methinks). Of Robert E. Howard I have little direct experience (I've got the majority of his fiction in book form, & plan to start my muscle-bound, leather-scented journey soon), and of course that's just scratching the surface. My partner has been reading C.L. Moore & freaking out over her. Just found a collection of M.R. James's ghost stories the other day. Algernon Blackwood & Arthur Machen remain unplumbed. Then there's Kuttner, Merritt, Chambers, Bierce, Long, William Hope Hodgson, etc etc etc. This bevy of still-unread supernal fiction is simultaneously overwhelming & a comfort.

So, just how does an aspiring reverer of strange & subconscious visions, an acolyte of the putrid, dripping eidolon of unwholesome revelation, figure out just where the heck he fits in a teeming world of billions of babbling souls? It's a tricky thornbush of a question. Lovecraft certainly never figured it out while materially incarnate, & most of his contemporaries have sunk to abysms far deeper than the crushing blackness entombing antique R'lyeh. I'm thinking an excellent place to start would be to polish off some of the short stories I've been developing & get them submitted to the myriad of weird/genre publications that proliferate across the Internet, but I still feel I'm missing some primal, obvious aspect to this whole mass-community business. I'm not a very good fanboy; I love desperately that which I love, but not in a sterile, preserved-under-glass way. Most of the communities I stumble across seem to be folk heatedly debating aspects of the Mythos, 'geeking,' or showing off their own work with excessive force (how do creative exchanges happen these days, with all the swollen-ego swaggering?). I read about Lovecraft & Company, & marvel at the complete lack of irony they expressed. Now, it seems the writer has to tailor themselves to excessive niche markets; there are boundaries to Weird fiction, & an entire over-ripe ethos permeating the genre's contemporary manifestation. Reading at the flurry of letters exchanged by the pioneers of the Weird, it quickly becomes clear that they were not caught up in self-abstraction, or more concerned about their market that their creative output. They were, collectively, advanced dredgers of the subconscious, sublimating their transcendent dream-quests into concrete, wildly vivid expressions. It was a movement, a renaissance of pulp sensationalism wedded to deep powers and dark catacombs of the self; one can readily draw comparisons to Chaos Magic, & the self-constructed occult systems of Austin Osman Spare (was delighted to discover that Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith actually discussed Spare's work, & exchanged prints of his paintings).

In short, I find myself in awe of (& primarily spending my time with) the dead instead of the living. This suits me fine; I'm atavistically drawn to atavism, & have had little luck finding modern writers capable of surrendering to vision over self-awareness. However, I've also barely plumbed the inky depths of modern Weird fiction, & acknowledge that my supreme out-of-stepness may be a simple manifestation of technophobia & uncharitable disillusion. The only solution I've been able to manifest is to Keep Working: ultimately recognition & compensation are tertiary to the making of a thing, but I would love to find some fellow voyagers on the wide, beatific river Oukranos.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Non-Lucid Lucidity: or, The Author Rhetorically Defends his Bedtime

There's something lucid about experiencing a crippling day of illness following hard on a day of festivity. To have the flesh transported so acutely in two very different directions in such a short space - bewildering, to say the least. In case the reader is wondering: Yes, I had a very REAL Thanksgiving, followed closely by a very REAL (& quite feisty) triumvirate of ailments. I'll spare the hoary details; let's just say I felt worked-over by the seven plagues of Egypt. I found myself staring at the ceiling & giggling hysterically, contemplating the fact that, although I was relatively sure I wasn't dying, it felt like I was dying. How many lives have been snuffed out after long, horrific ravages of illness, the soul tossed into the gulag of plague for a spell before being quickened and loosed?

By the time I'd recovered enough strength to walk sans staggering, I'd developed a deep, abiding sense of gratefulness (a grotesque Thanksgiving miracle, perhaps?) for the thrum of a well-functioning human body. A body whose operations are so refined, well-timed & uninhibited by microbe or mutation that the mind & spirit are free to employ it as a launching-place, & tread the ether unconcerned with the ever-waxing threat of clogged heart valves or the metastasis of lurking cancers. Due to proclivities for such projections, artists are often somewhat unkempt in appearance (at least in their natural habitats). The mind, the spirit is off holding court in alien dimensions & attending strange sabbats, not contemplating sock compatibility (at least this is the excuse I offer when some highly-conscious-of-propriety individual points out that I've absentmindedly put my shirt on inside-out). Such 'mistakes' may seem hilarious (perhaps even troubling) to some, who will attempt to project their epistemological values (justified belief or opinion?) on the person breaking the seeming taboo. This is one of the most common, minor perils in my line of work; I can't even begin to estimate how many times friends/family members/enemies/associates/postmen have upbraided me on my unstructured wake-and-sleep schedule. The active (even studied) disorientation of the senses is an immemorial tool of the poet, the magician, & the bard. Sadly, our hyper-modern hyper-materialistic reality considers the Promethean pursuit of craft and Beauty (ie: idle scribbling) a poor excuse for staying up after ten o'clock (though a media-binge marathon is somehow apt justification!).

My newfangled answer to all incongruities of perception is to Love. Simply, idiotically, against the grain of all terrestrial turmoil: Love. To be human is a shocking (as in PTSD) blessing: we are all walking wounded, half-blinded by the orchestrated horror of the world & our own subsumed Divinity. In the wake of my illness I felt actually lighthearted, open to a gust of wind exciting raptures, achingly grateful for the entities I call friends, family & lovers. I'm sure that a resurgent sense of jaded regularity will dull these feelings in short order, but I will strain to remember them, and moreover to embody them. For me, this means writing: for you, it probably means something else.