Greetings from the Ether,
As the Kickstarter continues to pick up momentum, we couldn’t think of a better time to interview the wonderful authors whose collections we are publishing this year. To start off this two-part series, we sit down with Pete Rawlik and delve into the fascinating journey that is Strange Company and Others.
CP: Strange Company and Others. This collection is going to be your debut, and with that in mind, I think the whole horror community is biting their nails to see this come to life. What can you tell our audience about the collection? What can they expect?
PR: The book is really a retrospective of my work. This of course means its heavily-weighted to Lovecraftian Mythos, some of those are deep dives – stories that I feel add directly to the ever-expanding body of the Mythos, some that move the needle on my own take on the mythos, while others are more thought experiments – What if? stories. There are Mythos stories that are tinged with cyberpunk, steampunk, fairytales, and even SF military. There is also a heavy dose of non-mythos stories, including tales about bad angels, Frankenstein, and what would be considered a Wold Newton tale concerning some of the most interesting characters in Victorian London. Some of the stories draw a bit from my own life, which I suppose makes them somewhat autobiographical. It will be amusing to see what people think is fiction and what they decide are snippets of fact. As much fun as I have making stuff up, I find that other people have a much more vivid imagination about my life.
PR: Nobody thinks of themselves as the villain of their own story. The trick is to try and find a character’s motivation and present that in a way that the reader will accept and sympathize with even the most horrifying of actions. My story “Things Change” is about a primordial lifeform that can adapt to the people and ideas that it encounters. The fact that it constantly encounters folks that continuously shape it into a monster isn’t its fault. Likewise, the protagonists in “The Battle of Arkham” are all monsters drawn from Lovecraftian fiction, but they’ve come together to battle against something that threatens to change the natural order, threatening not just mankind, but everything – war makes strange bedfellows. In “The Things She Left Behind” a father undertakes the task of cleaning out his missing wife’s possessions, and in the process is fundamentally transformed, but has he become a hero or a monster? If there is a central theme to my work it is probably that given circumstance and perspective heroes, villains and monsters are easily juxtaposed. Heroes can become monsters, monsters can become heroes, and villains can be heroic, but at the same time they remain monstrous, heroic, and villainous. The lines that we like to use to draw distinctions between the three are easily erased, and afterwards they might be hard to redraw.
CP: Some of your best work is in this collection, and Strange Company is going to hit the shelves before Necronomicon 2019. What are you most excited about at this point? Any goals or dreams you’re trying to capture with your debut?
PR: My previous books including Reanimators, Reanimatrix, The Weird Company, and even The Peaslee Papers have all been interconnected forming a unified and self-referencing narrative – a single setting. Some of the stories in this volume belong in that same setting, others don’t. That in itself is kind of liberating. I’m something of a stickler for continuity and go to great lengths to make sure tings fit together properly. In a book like The Strange Company and Others I don’t have to worry about continuity; each piece stands alone with no connection to anything else (well almost, there is some cross contamination). This allows me to juxtapose wild ideas. It’s akin to going to an Asian fusion buffet and being able to pick and choose from Japanese, Thai, and Chinese dishes. There may be some common ingredients, but the preparation, textures, and flavor profiles vary widely, and can increase the diner’s experience of each individual dish. I’m hoping that this collection does something similar. Plus, the whole idea of just having a collection, of a publisher and editor looking at my body of work and saying that they want to be a part of preserving that is thrilling. While I like to think of myself as an author, I’m also an avid collector, and from that perspective the idea of this book just thrills me. Would I read me? Yeah, I would read me!
CP: In many ways, I feel this collection is a celebration of horror and its many subgenres. A collection that spirals into numerous territories and covers a wide expanse of characters both new and old. Would this be far off to suggest?
PR: The core of the book is horror, but the horror manifests itself in a variety of settings and other genres. There’s a weird western and a hard-boiled cyberpunk story. “The Gumdrop Apocalypse” is a Cthulhu fairytale while “North of the Arctic Circle, 13 November 179-” is firmly rooted in the conceits of Christmas. “The Strange Company” is as much a mashup of Cthulhu and steampunk as it is a commentary on heroic tropes and the archetypes that drove early speculative fiction. It’s one of the pieces of which I am most pleased with as it takes familiar characters whose backstories Lovecraftians know well, and then drops them into a rather unfamiliar landscape of world-spanning pulp adventures. It’s also a nice contrast to “Stewert Behr – Deanimator,” which imagines a very different Lovecraftian universe than the Cthulhu Mythos. There are also a handful of in jokes. “The Last Days of Der Zirkus LAvenza” serves as a prequel to Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein, while at the same time accomplishing the resurrection of one of my favorite mad scientists. “The Nomenclature of Unnamable Horrors” is a treatise on how and why its necessary to do just that – name the unnamable, while at the same time poking fun at the whole idea. There’s a huge joke – more than one actually – in “The Annotation of James Ingraham Host,” but my lawyers say it is best if I don’t spoil the fun. “With The Storm” mashes up a minor Lovecraftian character with Ernest Hemingway with what I thought were spectacular results (your mileage may vary). But yes, I suppose there are a wide variety of genres and recycled characters in this collection. Funny how I hadn’t seen that.
CP: I know firsthand that this is going to be a fascinating and unique release. What do you think, in your own words, is going to separate this collection from others?
PR: Well first of all, it’s by me, and being my first collection, it’s going to be the best thing you’ve ever read.
-was that too much? I feel like it was too much. I don’t want to come off as super arrogant or douchey. But I feel like that might have been a little douchey.
Seriously though. Strange Company and Others represents some of my earliest work, as well as some of my favorites, and some that are very, very personal. You aren’t just reading things I’ve written, these are also pieces of my life, confessions, secrets even. Stuff that I don’t want my kids to read until they are much older, when maybe they might understand. At least I hope they do, otherwise I have quite a bit of explaining to do.
CP: You mentioned combining personal and fictional themes into a work. What part or piece of the collection is the most personal to you?
PR: I live in South Florida and spend a good deal of time either in the Everglades, on the coast, or offshore. It was inevitable that some of my experiences in these environments would find there way into my fiction. “The Unbearable” is an attempt to write a horror story set in the Everglades where, contrary to most representations, there are few trees and the landscape consists of vast tracts of sawgrass beneath a blazing, almost unforgiving sun. It’s a stark contrast to the gloomy darkness that permeates traditional horror tales. While set in Cuba, “With The Storm” draws on my love of coastal communities and the simplicity of life and the welcoming communities that I’ve encountered there. “The Statement of Orson Fletcher” draws from my experiences at various SF conventions, but most specifically Necronomicon-Providence. If you read it closely you might recognize various people and places. “The Things She Left Behind” is highly personal and relates some very real locations and events in my life. Most of the details concerning what I found in the hoard of boxes left behind by my ex are true. I may have taken a few liberties here and there, but not many.
PR: With a novel, you can use characters and events to encourage the reader to keep moving forward through the narrative. With a collection the narrative in which the reader is investing ends with each story, and you have to convince the reader that they want to invest in another narrative. These are very different modes of storytelling, different modes of keeping the reader interested. So while not having to worry about continuity and the various personalities and histories of different characters in a novel is a nice break, there are other factors that come into play that make a collection difficult in a different manner. Story length and tone are certainly factors, but so is subject matter. Convincing a reader to shift gears from cosmic horror tales to a werewolf romance or a post-apocalyptic religious drama might be a bit difficult, but I think how we’ve structured this table of contents is in a way to keep things interesting. So, to go back and answer the question, yes and no. In some ways it provided freedoms from continuity and the like that go into a novel, but it creates a whole new set of concerns that I hadn’t thought of before.
CP: What can you tell us about the Kickstarter exclusive limited-edition hardcover?
PR: Some of the details are still up in the air, but what we can say is that the Scott Wheelock artwork is going to be in a different color scheme, and I’m going to include a previously unpublished Cthulhu Mythos story. “The Defense of Li Zhou” is an 8000-word sequel to “The Dunwich Horror,” set in various Miskatonic University facilities. It presents some ideas I have had running in the back of my head for years, but never could work into any of my novels without them completely taking over.
CP: If you could sum up the collection in one catchy sentence, what would it be?
PR: “A diverse collection sure to entertain those who love weird fiction and confound those who don’t.”
CP: Once Strange Company is set upon the world, what will be next for Pete Rawlik?
PR: I have finished the first draft of a novel, The Eldritch Equations. It’s a sequel to Reanimatrix. I’m just waiting for comments from the beta readers to start doing rewrites. I would love to see it released in 2020, but it’s more likely for 2021. In the meanwhile, I’m tackling a bunch of projects, mostly short stories. There are a group of Sword and Planet stories I’ve written that I refer to as Randolph Carter, Warlock of Yaddith that will be out soon, mostly in the journal Skelos. I’m working on a secret project for a roleplaying company which I can’t talk about yet. In the meanwhile, I’m plotting out a sequel to The Weird Company which will place the Weird Company in direct opposition to the characters developed in Reanimatrix and The Eldritch Equations. It’s essentially a big crossover event between most of my series characters, think of it as The Avengers vs The X-Men, but with Lovecraftian characters. That might be all I want to talk about right now, I’ve got a few other irons in the fire but we have to see what heats up first.