Matthew Bartlett’s Gateways to Abomination and Rangel

I had been reading about Matthew Bartlett’s collection, Gateways to Abomination, in my friends’ Facebook posts for several months, but it wasn’t until this past Necronomicon Providence that I picked it up, along with Rangel, a chapbook published by Dim Shores .  One of the dangers of social media is its echo-chamber effect:  if a few of your friends and acquaintances are saying the same thing and liking and re-posting one another’s remarks concerning that thing, it can foster the illusion that whatever is being discussed is of more worth and consequence than, in fact, may be the case.  Happily, this was not true of both Gateways to Abomination and Rangel; indeed, as the year winds down and I look back over what I’ve read during the last twelve months, Matthew Bartlett’s fiction stands out as among my two or three real discoveries in that time.

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In Gateways to Abomination, he gives you what I first took to be a series of pieces of horror flash-fiction, one- and two- and three-page radio broadcasts, vignettes, brief narratives.  From the start, his prose style is strong, elegant and macabre in a way that reminds me of some of Thomas Ligotti’s early stories.  There’s a deliberate off-kilter quality to the way the pieces move from the mundane to the bizarre that I found very effective.  The further you progress in the book–and it is one who contents I would recommend reading in order–the more clear it becomes that these assorted shorter pieces are adding up to something more, a kind of fractal treatment of the part of Massachusetts about which he’s writing.  It’s one of those books I became more excited about the further I read in it and the more I realized what Bartlett was up to.

Rangel

Rangel occurs in the same geography as Gateways, and encompasses some of the same details as the earlier book, but it tells a longer story about its narrator’s encounter with a strange and awful civic event, one that appears to connect to his long-lost sister.  I wasn’t sure how Bartlett would handle the transition from the shorter pieces in Gateways to what must be Rangel‘s novelette length, but I needn’t have worried.  It’s as weird as the earlier book, with an added resonance that makes its end truly disturbing.  My only regret is that it appears to have sold out; perhaps an electronic copy might be released?

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I met Matthew Bartlett and his lovely wife this past Necronomicon; he was gentle and witty.  I look forward–eagerly–to what he writes next.  If you haven’t read him yet, I strongly recommend searching out Gateways to Abomination.

 

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Syl Disjonk’s Ethereal Chrysalis

At this past Necronomicon, Henrik Moller introduced me to Syl Disjonk and told me I should watch Syl’s short film, Ethereal Chrysalis.  I finally got around to doing so, today.  It’s an impressive piece.  I was struck by all that Syl was able to accomplish in such a short amount of time.  He describes the film as Lovecraftian, which I suppose it is, but I think it’s the Lovecraft of the dream stories–or it may be the dramatization of those semi-coherent speeches Lovecraft’s characters make after they’ve had their glimpses of the unutterably horrible.  It struck me as sharing the spirit of some of Joe Pulver’s fiction, too.  Take a look for yourself:

Necronomicon Providence 2015–Four Weeks On

I returned from the 2015 Necronomicon Providence with my older son and his family about to visit, and with my younger son and I about to test for our next promotions in Tang Soo Do.  As a result, it’s taken me a little while to sit down and set down my thoughts on the second of these conventions.  The short version is that I had an even better time at the 2015 Necronomicon than I did at the 2013 one, which I’m not sure I would have predicted possible.  I was very busy with programming, participating in a couple of readings and a number of panels.  There were also room parties.   In between, I spent time with a host of friends, signed numerous books, and wandered the dealers’ room.  I think I saw the convention developing in interesting directions.  The 2013 con focused more on Lovecraft and his set, with attention given to some contemporary horror writers (mostly those who fit best with HPL’s legacy).  The 2015 con seemed more evenly divided between HPL and his set and more recent horror writers.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens in 2017.

So:  some highlights from this convention:

–Thursday evening dinner with Brian Evenson, Paul Tremblay, Michael Cisco, Nikki Guerlain, Simon Strantzas, and Richard Gavin at a swanky restaurant whose name I’ve forgotten, but whose food was top-notch.  There was a great deal of laughter, and I received some good advice about a minor publishing quandary.  Afterwards, Cisco and Nikki and I wandered the streets of Providence until we came to a restaurant with outdoor seating, where we sat and discussed Gemma Files and Mike Griffin (which is to say, Cisco analyzed their fiction while I nodded and tried to keep up).

–Speaking of Paul:  Stephen King had just tweeted a very kind notice of Paul’s novel, A Head Full of Ghosts, that weekend, and all of us who love and respect Paul spent every available moment teasing him mercilessly about it.  He didn’t care, nor should he have.  It was nice to be able to spend time with one of your friends after he’s received some much-deserved praise from one of his heroes.  (Which reminds me:  have you read A Head Full of Ghosts?  If you have, good.  If not, what are you waiting for?)

–Speaking of Simon and Richard:  in addition to participating in panels and readings together, we had a nice, quiet dinner together on Saturday night at the local Mexican restaurant, where the waiter began our meal by expressing his regret over the news that actor Steven Seagal had just died (which, as it turned out, was not true).

–Then there were the room parties…  With my roommates, Bob Waugh and Eddy Eder, I had rented a suite at the convention hotel.  We invited a few people to stop by on Friday and Saturday nights.  They did.  They brought some more people, and also some very fine alcohol.  There was much good conversation.  I’m told the air in the room was at one point ninety-five percent Scotch, but I believe that’s an exaggeration; it couldn’t have been more than seventy-five, eighty percent, tops.  What I do know is that I can still stay up till four in the morning, if it’s to listen to Matthew Warren Richey read an excerpt from an autobiographically-inflected story and discuss the apocryphal Mormon view of Bigfoot.  I also know that, if you have to liberate extra glasses from somewhere in your hotel, Michael Cisco is the man for the job.

–Speaking of Eddy:  this was his second convention since beginning to focus on his weird artwork.  He was warmly and graciously received by the artistic community at the convention, who made room for him to display and sell prints of his work on one of their tables in the dealers’ room.  He also made contacts with some of the publishers who were there.  I was very happy for him.

–Speaking of artists:  I finally had a chance to meet and shake the hand of the uber-talented Michael Bukowski, who gifted me with an absolutely gorgeous compendium of his Nyarlathotep illustrations.  I was as bowled-over by his generosity as I was his talent, and that’s saying something.

–Speaking of publishers:  I had good conversations with both Derrick Hussey of Hippocampus Press, about my third collection, forthcoming in early 2016, and Ross Lockhart, of Word Horde Press, about possible future projects.

–And I met and spoke to so many talented writers, I don’t know where to begin.  I had the chance to hang out and have lunch with Dave Zeltserman, whose The Caretaker of Lorne Field is a recent favorite.  We talked about the joys of martial arts for the aging male body.  Anya Martin made me a gift of one of her late father’s books, which was very moving and for which I’m very grateful.  Scott Nicolay gave me a copy of his beautifully-designed chapbook, After.  Marc Fitch gave me a copy of his novel, Paradise Burns, with a very flattering inscription.  I was able to purchase copies of Matthew Bartlett’s latest collection and chapbook, and to spend some time talking with him and his wife.  I was able to get the ferociously-talented David Nickel to sign copies of his books for me, and to talk with him about the joys of writing fiction that’s too literary for the genre imprints, and too genre for the literary imprints.  I talked to Mike Griffin about his upcoming collection.  Justin Steele and I cursed each other out.  The Miskatonic Musings guys caught up with me for a brief interview.  Joe Pulver took me aside to talk to me.  Cisco had me convinced to spend a lot of money at one table in the dealers’ room, and I would have, if that bookseller had taken credit cards.

–What else?  Jack Haringa, floating in a cloud of nicotine, snark, and Scotch.  Matt Burke, whose art I like a great deal.  Michael Wehunt, who’s a very interesting writer.  Jeff Thomas, signing my books.  Ramsey Campbell, always at one end of a line of people waiting for him to sign their books.  Michael Marshall Smith, glimpsed across a room but, sadly, not spoken to.  Cody Goodfellow looking like Moses.  Or Karl Marx.  Or that guy in The Professor and the Madman.  The madman.  Getting to shake Henrik Moller’s hand and tell him how much I enjoyed his short film, Inviting the Demon.  (Really, it’s very good:  go check it out on YouTube.)  Watching Leeman Kessler chase his young daughter, and imagining for a moment it’s Lovecraft playing with his child.

So, well done, all those responsible for and involved with the staging of this convention.  I haven’t been to a better one this year.

ETA:  And shortly after I post this report, I realize I forgot to mention meeting the ferociously talented Damien Angelica Walters, and Phil Gelatt, and Jason Brock, and Mike Davis, and Steve Mariconda, and Alex Houston, and Dan Mills, and I also forgot to mention signing books for any number of folks who were kind and gracious enough to ask me to.  Sorry about that, folks!

Bob Waugh

When I attend Necronomicon Providence in a couple of weeks, I’ll be driving up with Bob Waugh.  Bob is at this point one of my oldest and dearest friends.  He and his wonderful wife, Kappa, are godparents to my younger son.  My wife and I have spent time with them on Cape Cod, in Provence, and here in the Hudson Valley, where we’ve shared birthday dinners and holiday celebrations.

During the second semester of my freshman year in college, Bob was my Honors English 2 professor; subsequently I took a host of classes with him, from surveys of English literature to intensive studies of the work of James Joyce.  Also during my first year of college, Bob founded the H.P. Lovecraft Forum, which he’s kept going for the last twenty-eight years pretty much on his own.  Every October, around Halloween (of course), he’s invited leading scholars of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction to the SUNY New Paltz campus to share their current work.  S.T. Joshi, Steve Mariconda, Peter Cannon, Judy Johnson, Norm Gayford, and a host of others (including more than a few students at the college, presenting their work in an academic forum for the first time) have shared their essays with a mix of students, faculty, and interested members of the public.  It’s usually a modest affair, which allows the audience the opportunity to speak with the participants afterwards.

For me, a consistent highlight of the Lovecraft Forums (Fora?) has been the chance to hear Bob read from his latest critical project.  Over the years, many of the essays he’s read have gone on to publication, first in Lovecraft Studies, more recently in the Lovecraft Annual, and occasionally in critical anthologies such as An Epicure in the Terrible.  In the last decade, he’s collected those essays and synthesized them into two books:  The Monster in the Mirror:  Looking for H.P. Lovecraft and A Monster of Voices:  Speaking for H.P. Lovecraft.  If the books have a common theme, it’s an effort to situate Lovecraft within a larger cultural frame.  In some essays, this means Bob considers Lovecraft in relation to Pope, or Keats, or Lawrence.  In others, it means he considers the role race and racism play in Lovecraft’s stories.  Indeed, throughout the ongoing discussions and debates about Lovecraft’s racial prejudices, I’ve frequently wished that the participants on both sides had read Bob’s “The Subway and the Shuggoth” (found in The Monster in the Mirror), which uses the climatic confrontation with the shuggoth in At the Mountains of Madness as a prompt to a wide-ranging discussion of how racial prejudice and anxiety inform not just the short novel, but the body of Lovecraft’s work.  It’s a moving, masterful piece of critical writing, one that exemplifies the best in literary study.  Sympathetic to its subject, it nonetheless refuses to let him off the hook.  The result is actual insight into how Lovecraft’s fiction functions.  The essay–and Bob’s critical work in general–has served as a model for my own critical efforts.

In the last few years, Bob, already an accomplished poet, has turned his hand to writing short fiction.  The stories he’s produced have ranged from bizarre anecdotes to longer, even weirder pieces.  At Necronomicon, he’ll be debuting a collection of them, The Bloody Tugboat and Other Witcheries.  They make a strangely-appropriate companion to his criticism.

So if you have the chance to hear Bob participate in a panel, or read from his fiction, I highly recommend you do so.  If you don’t have copies of his work, I highly recommend you purchase them.  He’s a fine scholar, a great guy, and I love him to pieces.