In the past year, we made an interview with S. T. Joshi. And now, in 2017, we made an interview with David E. Schultz. Two genius. Same opinion? Enjoy and please share!
Congratulations for the publication of the new Fungi from Yuggoth edition. What are you working on these days?
I’m putting finishing touches on H. P. Lovecraft’s letters with C. L. Moore, and to Fritz and Jonquil Leiber, Henry Kuttner, and Frederic J. Pabody. The letters of Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith are being indexed, and that soon will be ready for printing. Lovecraft’s letters to Maurice W. and Robert E. Moe, Bernard Austin Dwyer, Samuel Loveman, and Vincent Starrett have been edited and proofed—but I need to do some bibliographic work at the Library of Amateur Journalism in Madison and to finish writing the introduction before we can call that complete. All these books are due to be published in 2017. I’m wrapping up my editing of the correspondence of Clark Ashton Smith with Donald Wandrei and R. H. Barlow, which also should be published this year. I’ll then take up Smith’s correspondence with Loveman for my final edit before sending it to S.T. Joshi. I expect to start working in earnest again on Smith’s correspondence with August Derleth in May. Joshi is proofing Lovecraft’s letters to family members (which we have both annotated), and so when he returns them in the summer—two fat volumes worth—I’ll format them for publication—this will be a 2018 book along with Lovecraft’s letters to Hyman Bradofsky, Helm Spink, Ralph Babcock, and various others, also for next year. This latter has been assembled and lightly edited, but I need to go through it again before releasing it to Joshi this summer. I work on and off on the collected poetry and other writings of Leah Bodine Drake; this book will contain some 200 or so uncollected or unpublished poems. These are all active projects. There are many others yet to be started (a half-dozen other volumes of Lovecraft letters, a revised edition of Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book). And of course I design other books besides these for Hippocampus Press. So although I’m “retired,” I’m busier than ever.
A Lovecraft fanzine cannot circumvent this question: what is your favorite Lovecraft tale?
Hmm. I wanted to say “The Shadow over Innsmouth” because of its triumphal final line, but upon reflection the Zadok Allen’s dialect speech doesn’t do much for me, nor the “chase scene,” which seems to be an attempt to appease the pulp editors’ constant demands for “action.” So I would have to say “The Colour out of Space,” probably his greatest tale. I can reread it, whereas some of the other stories are not so easily reread because one already knows the ending—they are difficult to read with the same fresh eyes of the first encounter.
Lovecraft readers know your name because of the articles that you contributed to the Lovecraftian community, and the books you edited. What brought you to Lovecraft’s works? Can you still recall your first Lovecraft-reading experience?
I’m ashamed to say that was attracted me to Lovecraft was the Lancer paperback, The Colour out of Space. It showed a photograph of a skull amidst flames. What that had to do with the stories therein is beyond me. I suppose I was attracted to it because I had been reading a lot of science fiction, and a smattering of weird fiction. This seemed to be a combination of the two, and so I bought it—not in a bookstore, but in department store. I’m pretty sure I didn’t read all of it. The title story grabbed me. “The Call of Cthulhu” I enjoyed, but it was . . . different—so unlike anything I’d ever read. I’m sure I skipped the longer stories in the book as being too much effort, whereas I enjoyed “The Picture in the House,” “Cool Air,” and “The Terrible Old Man.” I noticed that the book acknowledged permission from Arkham House—a name that pleased me, considering what they published—which was located one hundred miles from me. That was a surprise, for 75% of everything published in the U.S. seems to emerge from New York City. And I’d never heard of Sauk City. And so I ordered a catalogue and promptly ordered The Dunwich Horror, Dagon, At the Mountains of Madness, and Collected Poems. Three volumes of Selected Letters came later.
What motivated you to write non-fictional articles on a favorite author of yours, and how did you get in contact with Joshi and his circle of Lovecraft devotees?
A number of things. Not much had been written about Lovecraft. Or to put a find point on it, much had been written about Lovecraft in the 35 years since his death, but little of it was worth reading. Mostly uninformed fan pieces. Could anything be more disappointing than A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos? When I started reading Selected Letters (and mind you, only three volumes had appeared by that time), I began to realize that Lovecraft’s own words said volumes about him and his work that the fans just didn’t know, or get. For example, from Lovecraft’s letters, and the chronological listing in Lovecraft at Last of his fiction, one could tell instantly that the “chronology” in Dagon and Other Macabre Tales was completely bogus. One doesn’t write stories in alphabetical order in any given year, and the years themselves often were wrong. The chronology seemed to be based more on dates of publication than dates of composition, and I felt it was important to know when pieces were written so that one could see how ideas grew over time. So I set about devising a more accurate chronology based on truly primary sources. In college I had read “scholarly” works about various authors, and thought “That’s the way the job is done!” Thomas O. Mabbott’s edition of Poe was, to me, magisterial. I despaired of ever doing so thorough a job with Lovecraft’s writings (though, in truth, Mabbott had assistance from numerous graduate students—a resource I’d never have at my disposal). But even so, I sought to emulate that sort of scholarship. I didn’t do all that well, because don’t have the training or practice; I was a second-rate imitator.
In 1972 or so, I obtained copy of Meade Frierson’s H.P.L., in which I read Richard L. Tierney’s “The Derleth Mythos”—an astonishingly revelatory piece. No one had ever challenged August Derleth, whose pronouncements about Lovecraft and his work, spoken with authority, nevertheless seemed somehow to miss the mark. I got in touch with the Minneapolis–Wisconsin Lovecraftians of the day, well before crossing paths with Joshi, by ordering a copy of Etchings and Odysseys from Jack Koblas. Koblas invited me to Minneapolis for one of his “MinnCons.” It turned out that Tierney lived in the Twin Cities, and so I could meet the heretic in person.
Through the MinnCon group, I obtained a copy of Kenneth W. Faig, Jr.’s revolutionary “Lovecraftian Voyages”—a lengthy collection of his musings on various matters Lovecraftian. That was the real deal—worth more than all the previous fanzines put together and then some. And if that wasn’t enough, the proofs for his edition of Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book were thrust into my hands for proofing by R. Alain Everts, who intended to publish it. Alas, the book never appeared, but again, I had been handed a wealth of information completely unavailable to me through other means. In other words, I stumbled on the true crux of Lovecraft studies by meeting Faig, Everts, and also Dirk W. Mosig in the mid-1970s, all through a chance purchase of Jack’s magazine and his invitation to Minneapolis. Any book I’ve done on Lovecraft has deep roots in the works of and discussions with these men. My editions of the Commonplace Book and Fungi from Yuggoth owe much to Ken Faig, if not actual content, then primarily inspiration. It was Dirk Mosig who slipped me 8 × 10 black and white photographs of the manuscript of Fungi. How eye-opening that was! I learned there were initially only thirty-five sonnets. How could that be! And Lovecraft initially called “The Pigeon Flyers” (a name that didn’t make any sense to me) “Hell’s Kitchen” (which did). And there was so much else to be derived from the scribbling on the mss.
S. T. Joshi and I crossed paths because of Dirk Mosig. Joshi had mentioned to Mosig that the story chronology in Dagon was all wrong, and Dirk suggested that he write me about it, because I had published a brief piece about it in the first mailing of Everts’s Necronomicon Amateur Press Association. I also belonged to the older Esoteric Order of Dagon apa, but vastly preferred the Necronomicon because of its focus on research and primary documents—this under the guidance of Everts. And so Joshi wrote me in the summer of 1975, I believe, and we have been friends ever since. He soon became a fellow member of the Necronomicon apa, and also undertook writing a bibliography of Lovecraft. I had been working on such a project myself, but was vastly unqualified to do such a thing at the time. When Joshi attended Brown University, he obtained copies of things I desired from the John Hay Library, and over the years he generously shared all sorts of information—including his corrected texts of Lovecraft’s fiction and other writings. I really was not part of the Rhode Island–Massachusetts group, as I didn’t go to conventions or other gatherings, and I didn’t much correspond with the group members either.
Everts pointed out to me that Lovecraft’s letters to August Derleth had been microfilmed and so I ordered a copy, but could do little with it at the time. I lent it to Joshi, who made three sets of prints from it. From that, I had a great window into Lovecraft’s life, although limited only to his dealings with Derleth. In the early 1990s, following the centennial conference in Providence in 1990, I typed all those letters. I’m not sure why, but I did. When Joshi found out, he commenced typing other sets of letters. I obtained still others, and we had a friendly competition of who was typing more letters. In the early 1990s, we made several treks to Providence, where we spent at least a week each time working in the John Hay Library. Those feats were repeated in later years, working not only on Lovecraft but also on Clark Ashton Smith. During those occasions we’d meet up with the New England crowd, for the library was not open on the weekend. But I never was in tight with the group.
In any case, we found that a small press could not handle fat volumes of Lovecraft’s correspondence, and large publishers weren’t interested. The letters were all on my computer, and were mined regularly for information. In time, we did find publishers receptive to volumes of Lovecraft’s letters—even the large volumes—and so we strive now to publish all the Lovecraft letters we can find.
You say that you’re not particularly into weird fiction, you just like certain weird writers because they are good writers. What is Lovecraft’s most significant contribution to literature in your opinion? What do you think constitutes his literary merits? Also, what do you think Lovecraft can give to a reader who is slightly acquainted with weird fiction (or not at all)?
I think Lovecraft’s greatest contribution to fiction was his fusion of realism with the fantastic. Introducing fantastical beings into normal everyday reality makes the fantastic that much more fearsome, or even credible. I read quite a bit of science fiction when I was in high school and college, and even the best writers did not seem to inject the realism Lovecraft evoked into their work. I’m not saying Lovecraft was always successful, but when he was, the result was profoundly unsettling. I’m not sure Lovecraft has something for everyone. After all, most people encounter Lovecraft in youth, and most are male—at least that has been the case for a long time—when I think they are more likely to be captivated by his writing style and also his subject matter. I’m not sure I would see an equally powerful reaction if I suggested to a fifty-year-old that he read Lovecraft for the first time.
You participated in quite a couple of editions of Lovecraft material. Did your estimation of Lovecraft the artist and/or the person change over time?
I don’t think so. The impressions I first got of Lovecraft in the early 1970s, from reading his letters, has pretty much remained the same. But I’ve become far more aware of his wry and playful humor. In his letters he always seems to be “on,” especially with his oldest cronies. One thing I’ve grown to appreciate is his genuine interest in coaching and encouraging aspiring writers. Many of those young writers have commented on Lovecraft’s guiding hand and the profound effect it had on them. Now, I have read the exact same words he wrote to them, and can see that there often aren’t lengthy paeans of encouragement. His influence was great with the few words written, and the genuine sincerity with which they are imbued. I think my estimation of his fiction may have diminished a bit, only because in his letters he points out flaws in the fiction of others and it seems to me that he himself, though he can see the flaws in the work of others, has a difficult time overcoming weaknesses in his own writing.
You edit books on Lovecraft and some other authors who (beside their own intrinsic values) are connected with him one way or another (Ambrose Bierce, Clark Ashton Smith). Do you or did you work this extensively on other authors not related to Lovecraft?
I have worked on Bierce, Smith, and Sterling not because of any connection to Lovecraft (though I suppose there is some. Just as there are “six degrees of Kevin Bacon,” I think there are six degrees of H. P. Lovecraft) but because of intrinsic merit. I enjoy Smith’s and Sterling’s poetry and read it well before thinking of working on them. I suppose that for me, Lovecraft lead to Arkham House, Arkham House to Smith, Smith to Sterling, both Sterling and Smith to Bierce. As for Bierce? Ray Bradbury’s “Pillar of Fire” described a future in which the work of various “morbid” authors was routinely destroyed, and he mentioned Machen and Bierce as being such authors, so I decided I definitely needed to seek them out. I was a little disappointed that the Bierce book I found had so many stories of the Civil War, which I enjoyed but which did not seem to be what Bradbury was hinting at. But I did find and enjoy The Devil’s Dictionary in that same book, along with various macabre stories. Years ago, after we had been collaborating for some time, Joshi told me “I want to work on Ambrose Bierce!” and I said “Go right ahead, but leave me out.” Not because of writing but because of the difficulty. Bierce’s writings were published in newspapers—from a century ago and more. I had a job, a family. The effort to unearth his stuff was just too great. And yet . . . by 2000 we had found and typed nearly all his journalism. Through that we published several books, including a very robust bibliography.
Are there any publications of yours (editions, studies, or anything else) that you’re especially proud of or which is especially dear to you?
I am rather proud of The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary of Ambrose Bierce because a lot of work went into tracking down Bierce’s literary allusions, and also the first appearances of many items not found in his dictionary columns per se. It became a real art to recognize his nods to others, for he didn’t often use quotation marks (since his parodies weren’t true quotes). In a sense, the book does little more than duplicate Ernest J. Hopkins’s Enlarged Devil’s Dictionary. But his book (besides including numerous definitions not by Bierce) gave no historical context. I like to think of the Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary as the “last word,” but ruefully realize it is not. Still more could be added to it—if not entries, then sources of quotations. The “complete” short fiction of Ambrose Bierce includes half a dozen or so items by Bierce that I found published unsigned in the newspapers of his day. They’re slight, but previously unknown works by him. My edition of Fungi from Yuggoth might be a bit overdone, but it does clarify the complex history of the poem—its composition and its ragtag appearances in print—which never appeared complete in Lovecraft’s lifetime. The “complete” poetry of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith (edited with S.T. Joshi) are valuable collections, I think, although both contain a fair amount of dross. They’ll be the last word on both authors for some time to come, I think. I’m proud of the Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book, because it ties so deeply into his other work.
I’m proud, to, of the editions of Lovecraft’s letters. They have been quite difficult to prepare, for various reasons. Quite simple in others (having access to the Arkham House transcripts has been a tremendous boon). Amassing scattered documents has been a long, slow process, and frankly I’m glad that we did not rush into print volumes of letters long ago that would not be nearly as robust as what we can put out today. The Lovecraft community has been helpful in this regard—and the Internet! The time is right for bringing out Lovecraft’s letters in full.
What do you appreciate most in a writer generally?
When I was younger, I enjoyed being transported somewhere else—coming to the point at which I no longer saw words on the page, but instead a vivid scene in my mind in which the events described came to life. That rarely happens these days, but I think I value that most in a writer—the ability to make me not see words but what it is they try to capture, be in in fiction, nonfiction, or poetry.
Are there authors or specific writings you like to reread time and again (be they weird or other authors/works)?
Funny thing. I have a lot of unread books, but I continually go back to certain favorite items: Melville’s “Bartleby”; Borges’s “The Aleph”; Nabokov’s Pnin; certain stories by R. A. Lafferty and William Faulkner; Dorothy Day; Garrison Keillor; Seamus Heaney; Thomas Merton’s letters and journals; P. G. Wodehouse. Some of these I read just for fun; others, because even with repeated reading they yield new treasures.
A closing question which is vital to any Lovecraftian readers: cats or dogs?
Ha! Neither! We once had cats—they didn’t do much for me. (Even the nice one.) A large dog boards here now. Don’t much care for it either. I spent some time in the company of a brace of little Schnauzers for a week last summer. They were okay, mostly because I didn’t need to care for them, and also because they were small.