Friday, January 24, 2014

Talking Sin, Blood, and Hammers

I received a shout-out in the Amazon review of Anthology II: Inner Demons Out. It's a great review of an excellent anthology. I reccommend it.

Anthology II: Inner Demons Out, with an impressive list of cotributors, and me.

My own story is called "A Poor Sinner's Hands," and this blog entry is about the background of this story.

To begin with, there aren't a lot of protagonists of color in horror. Especially in Lovecraftian horror. The image of the tweedy professor of anthropology or folklore is almost inevitable of a white guy. Elizabeth Bear's Shoggoths in Bloom is a rare outlier. And I like treadiny my own path, but I also want diversity in what I read. A single perspective is boring and repetitive. What would be a working-class perspective on the Cthulhu Mythos? What would they find in it? Lovecraft posits a lot of lower-class people being part of the Cthulhu Cult in "The Call of Cthulhu." But he did so for reasons of racism, implying that anyone would worship Cthulhu had to be in some way subhuman. But I look at people's motivations more than Lovecraft did. So my cultists need a reason to rebel, a reason to go against established social order.

I originally wrote this for a fifties themed Mythos anthology. I wanted to make a paralell between the very human cruelty of racism and the very unworldly horror of the Mythos. Others have done so before, specifically David Drake's "Than Curse the Darkness" (available in the Book of Cthulhu, which I love. But one idea doesn't make a story. But when two bounce off each other, the engine starts to warm up. So I had the idea for a black character, in the fifties, encountering the Mythos. But how?

You know those Facebook memes with "Do you have a moment to talk about our Lord and savior Cthulhu?" Thinking about that, there are problems. The Cthulhu Cult is necessarily secretive, but they have to be in some way evengelical. How do they recruit? And what if they ran into someone who was exactly the wrong person? A murderer perhaps?

But I didn't want to make someone who was just a psycho. "Just a psycho" is boring. Why does a person need to kill? That's more interesting. Someone who doesn't want to kill, but has to anyway? That's interesting. How do they maintain a semblance of a life when they commit murders? How do they think about it? This idea combined with the racism to come up with a very interesting character, Eli Taff. Taff is a veteran of World War II who came home to farm in Louisiana. With a lot of discussion coming up recently about PTSD in veterans, I thought this would make for an interesting psychological stew for a character.

With these elements, the story practically wrote itself. And I'm pretty happy with it. It's a smaller, more intensely human story than most stories that borrow Lovecraft's ideas. But my tack has has been to be more human than Lovecraft was, to explore the way otherworldly horrors erode and distort a person. Someone that could be us.

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