Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Thoughts on Lovecraft

I'm writing a novel.

Actually, I'm researching a novel I'm thinking of writing. While I write it.

Yeah, I know. It's crazy, right?

I know the odds of it being published--and then making any money--are slim to none. I'm not one of those Writer's Digest subscribers who drool over the articles entitled "You Too Can Make a Fortune Writing Simple Greeting Cards" and rail against the cabal of editors who obviously are working together to make sure my golden prose never sees print. I'm not one of those lazy buffoons who sees writing as some great and glorious get rich quick scheme that will keep me from performing manual labor once my first short story is published.

I make money from my writing, just not a lot of it, and certainly not from fiction. And especially not from science fiction.

I'm writing the novel just to see if I can do it. No pressure. If it's publishable, that's great. If it's not, I'll work on it until it is. Then we'll see. But I'm not relying on it (the whole 'no pressure' thing again. It's very liberating). No expensive workshops, no NaNoWriMo, just me and the prose. And a lot of research. And H.P. Lovecraft.

I'm writing a novel in which H.P. Lovecraft is a character. It's important that I get him right, and I'm still not sure if I will be able to pull it off.

Stories in which Lovecraft's creations continue to menace humanity are very popular, and are part of a rich literary tradition. Just in the last few years we've had a very auspicous effort in Nick Namatas' debut novel Move Under Ground, which pits Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy against the Great Old Ones. We've got Charles Stross writing the Lovecraftian mysteries The Atrocity Archive and his latest The Jennifer Morgue. But these works operate under the popular (and sometimes, I think, hopeful) premise that H.P. Lovecraft's Great Old Ones, Elder Things and shoggoths are real, that good old Howie was actually in tune with something From Beyond, that some eldritch horrors from beyond the stars would return to menace us with their very alienness and freak us out with their non-Euclidean geometry.

But it's more than just Lovecraft that I'm interested in. I'm also intrigued by the Singularity, and people making themselves more than people. For the first time in history, we will be able to make ourselves into gods--another theme in SF that goes all the way back to Roger Zelazny's wonderful Lord of Light, and continues recently through Dan Simmons' amazing Illium and Olympos. What if, instead of post humans turning themselves into the gods of the Hindu or Greek pantheons, they remade themselves into the Great Old Ones? Or what if aliens posing as the Great Old Ones passed themselves off as Lovecraft's horrible, extraterrestrial "dieties"? Who better to fight them off than their creator?

I've run into some problems, such as how to take someone from before the computer age and surround him with such technology. How can I make him grow and change, and challenge as well as champion some of the things he believed? How will he deal with his overwhelming popularity--a guy who never saw a collection of his work published in his lifetime? A man who wrote, in an autobiographical essay entitled "Some Notes on a Nonentity", "I have no illusions concerning the precarious status of my tales, and do not expect to become a serious competitor of my favorite weird authors." Will he be chagrined? Elated? Confused?

I am all of these things, and more. For the challenges are what keep me going. I may not get where I want to go, but where ever I end up, I won't be the same. That's just what literature, even the bad, self-written kind, does for us. And we learn that it isn't the destination that matters, but the journey.

Or I'll give it all up in a week and write some more paying articles. Who knows?


Gregory Adams said...

Interesting notation about Lovecraftian fiction: Michael Chabon, author of 'Wonder Boys' and other very literary, very successful fiction, took a run at a lovecraftian story, and it didn't quite gel. It's the last tale in his 'Werewolves in their youth' collection, but ti's funny how such a obviously talented writer can miss the mark when attempting specific genre writing.
Jack London kind of did the same thing when he composed a Poe-like story of revenge. The title escapes me (it involved fishing with dynamite).

I guess my point is, getting Lovecraft right is hard, so go easy on yourself and best of luck!


James said...

Thanks, Gregory. I am trying to go easy on myself and dear old Howard. He isn't the only character in the book, so I'm alternating scenes in which Lovecraft is writing it, third person scenes in which he is a part of the action, and scenes featuring only the other characters. It may take a few rewrites, but my first priority is to simply get the thing finished. I'll worry about everything else later. But thanks for the encouragement. We'll see how it goes.