Eric Schaller and Matthew Cheney have both been publishing short stories for well over a decade, and their debut story collections were released this year within weeks of each other. Schaller’s Meet Me in the Middle of the Air is published by Undertow and received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who said that “Schaller is both unflinching and delicate in his dissection of human vulnerability.” Cheney’s Blood: Stories is published by Black Lawrence Press, who awarded it the Hudson Prize. At Locus Online, Paul di Filippo wrote that Cheney “brings back fever-dream reportage wrapped up in packages both bloody and colorful.”
The two writers have known each other for many years, first meeting when Cheney began work on a master’s degree at Dartmouth College, where Schaller is a professor of biology. Together, they edit the online magazine The Revelator, which has published fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and comics by Laird Barron, Adam Blue, Ed Bolman, Richard Bowes, John Chu, Robin DeRosa, Jeffrey Ford, Minsoo Kang, Mikki Kendall, Nick Mamatas, Meghan McCarron, Sofia Samatar, Brian Francis Slattery, Chad Woody, and others.
— Weird Fiction Review Editors
Eric Schaller: I was trying to figure out our actual history, something that gets foggier and foggier in my memory as time passes. I know that Jeff VanderMeer was the instigator. He suggested I contact you since we both lived in New Hampshire, and he pointed me toward your Mumpsimus blog. But I don’t remember what year this was or exactly how we first met.
Matthew Cheney: It was just before I started my master’s degree at Dartmouth, which would have been the summer of 2005. I expect I applied in the late fall of 2004, and I probably asked Jeff for a recommendation letter, since I figured somebody who’d published a book might look good as a recommender. He then said, “Do you know Eric Schaller?” and I said no, and he gave me your email address. I think I sent you a note and we had lunch at Murphy’s in Hanover.
ES: Hmmm, I don’t remember the Murphy’s lunch but I could certainly see meeting there. Murphy’s had bookshelves on the wall with the books cut in half vertically so that you had the spine but not the content. Mostly I remember having long late-night talks about Delany in our living room.
MC: Oh, that came later. First, you had to make sure I was hygienic.
ES: Perhaps my most vivid ‘early’ memory – this was a few years later but indicates how there are hidden depths of rapport that can persist unfathomed until just the right cue. We were at ReaderCon in Massachusetts and drove down the road to Starbucks. I was playing a CD from the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music on my truck’s stereo. The song was, “The Bandit Cole Younger.” The lyric was, “I had my eye on the Northfield bank when brother Bob did say,/Cole, if you under-to-take job, you’ll always curse the day.” You said, “I’ve been there.” At first I didn’t know what you were talking about.
MC: True! My aunt, uncle, and cousins lived in Faribault, Minnesota for a while, and as a kid I was obsessed with all things Jesse James (particularly the country music concept album The Legend of Jesse James), so when my parents and I went out to visit our family, we took a trip over to nearby Northfield and visited the First National Bank where Jesse and Frank James nearly died and their gang was pretty much destroyed. Later, of course, we would discover the true history of that event in the pages of The Revelator.
ES: This represented a whole new level of unexpected but overlapping interests, the strange twinning of 0ld-timey music with fiction that spoke of the future. Perhaps not so strange, given that there is so much weirdness in the folk tradition – The Old Weird America, as Greil Marcus called it – but it wasn’t a set of shared interests that I’d encountered before.
MC: For all of our differences as writers and people and such, “the old, weird America” is indeed a phrase that represents a lot of what overlaps for us.
MC: I didn’t, but for purely mercenary reasons — it’s the story that had gotten the most attention of all the ones in the manuscript, and so I thought if anybody had any knowledge of me as a fiction writer, it was likely because of that story.
ES: “Blood” got a lot of attention. Not only was it published in One Story, a very visible showcase, but it was included on a lot of high-profile recommended reading lists. I’m guessing that its being recommended by Stephen King when he edited The Best American Short Stories 2007 gave you particular pleasure.
MC: Yes, Stephen King was a huge influence on me as a young reader, and so knowing that he’d read the story was a thrill. I wouldn’t be the writer I am without Stephen King. But I hasten to point out that the honorable mentions in BASS are, as I understand it, stories the series editor sent to the guest editor, and then the guest editor rejected for inclusion in the book. Still, it’s not everybody who can say that Stephen King didn’t think they were quite best enough, and it’s an honor I cherish.
ES: One thing readers might not immediately notice is that you are credited for the cover design. How did that come about?
MC: The executive editor at Black Lawrence Press, Diane Goettel, asked me if I had any preferences or ideas for a cover design: favorite images, artists, fonts, etc. Though I can’t draw anything at all, I have experience as a video editor and through doing that learned some basic image manipulation techniques. So I started fiddling around with mock-ups, intending to give Diane a set she could then pass on to a real designer, since I had no idea how to get the dimensions and formatting correct for actual printing. As I was looking for copyright-free imagery to use, I stumbled upon some anatomical illustrations from the mid-19th century. The minute I saw one particular image by Joseph Maclise from Richard Quain’s 1844 Anatomy of the Arteries of the Human Body, with Its Applications to Pathology and Operative Surgery, I knew I needed to use it somehow. How could I resist the image of a very handsome corpse with its heart surgically removed? It encapsulated so much of the book for me.
I got really obsessed with it. I probably did ten mock-ups just with that image. One where I had cut out all of the color and upped the contrast to make the image look like a line drawing seemed particularly evocative, and then I started playing with color, fonts, etc. and ended up with something that was much more finished than a mock-up. I sent a bunch of things to Diane, told her I liked the heartless boy best, and she came back with a different one that she liked, one that didn’t use the heartless boy picture and was my own second choice. The next day, though, she emailed me again to say she couldn’t get the heartless boy out of her mind, so we ought to go with that, even though it was really pushing the envelope a bit and might turn off some people who saw it. So we went with it. I sent all my files to the book designer, Amy Freels, and she ended up using it as-is.
ES: What was your first published story? Is it included in your collection?
MC: I published some juvenilia during my teenage years in a great magazine of student writing called Merlyn’s Pen. For juvenilia, they’re not bad, but they don’t need to be reprinted. My first story published in adulthood was “Getting a Date for Amelia”, which I wrote in the summer of 2000, and it’s in the book, since though it’s a bit dated (the cell phone in the story originally indicated the substantial wealth of one of the characters!), I think it holds up okay, and it did get some attention when it was published (it was one of the first stories published originally online that was ever nominated for a Pushcart Prize). It was a fluke success; I didn’t publish another story of any worth for a few more years, and mostly I collected piles of rejection slips that I used as wallpaper in my bathroom.
ES: The stories in Blood cover a lot of literary territory, sometimes within the space of a single story. Some of the elements are clearly related to genre and some just as clearly are not. What would you say are the main influences on your approach to writing?
MC: Because there’s almost 15 years worth of writing in the book, the influences shift over time. The early stories were highly influenced by my three years studying playwrighting at NYU and really devoting myself to playwrighting as a form. It was pretty much all I wrote and all I read for those years. So now I read the older stories and see a lot of Christopher Durang, Samuel Beckett, Edward Albee, Maria Irene Fornes, Mac Wellman, Len Jenkin, Georg Büchner, Tony Kushner, Suzan-Lori Parks, and even a touch of Brecht and a dash of Chekhov. But then also there is the influence of Conjunctions 39: The New Wave Fabulists, which brought me back to reading writers associated with science fiction, fantasy, and horror for the first time in many years — I’d pretty much stopped reading genre fiction from about 1996 to 2002. I read that issue of Conjunctions right when it came out in the fall of 2002, and it was revelatory. A few of the writers were ones I’d read before (John Kessel, Gene Wolfe, Joe Haldeman, Peter Straub), but it was my introduction to Kelly Link, China Miéville, Neil Gaiman, Nalo Hopkinson, Elizabeth Hand, M. John Harrison, Paul Park — all writers I’d continue reading.
Those first years of the new century were exciting ones for writers of a somewhat surrealist bent such as myself, because borders between types of writing were becoming more porous. I was of the generation that grew up reading Bruce Sterling and Donald Barthelme and not caring that one was in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and one was in The New Yorker. There was more resemblance than difference, and the resemblance was: this is meaty and it is mindbending.
Coming out of the playwrighting world, too, I just didn’t have the standard border controls in my mind, because nobody ever talked about “science fiction plays” versus “literary plays”. There were good plays and bad plays, avant-garde plays and traditional plays, Broadway and off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway, etc., and those were categories that made some sense to me, but the whole idea of “genre fiction” vs. “literary fiction” never really had much meaning for me. I grew up reading Kafka one day and King the next, and my whole attitude then was, “Why not?”
ES: What made you decide to submit a collection to Black Lawrence for the Hudson Prize competition?
MC: I began to want to be seen as a fiction writer. I spent a lot of time not knowing what kind of writer I was, and there were many moments where I thought I would abandon fiction, but I kept coming back to it and ultimately decided that it really is the form I’m most committed to. So I put together a manuscript to see if I could make it hold together. I liked the manuscript. It felt coherent and meaningful. But what could I do with it?
At the time, I had a lower profile as a fiction writer than a nonfiction writer. If you publish stories, as I have, in lots of differences places, disregarding marketing categories and audience communities, you’re going to be relatively invisible. On the other hand, I wrote a lot of nonfiction and for a relatively small group of publications, so I was visible as a nonfiction writer. But even a story with some success, like “Blood” or even “Getting a Date for Amelia”, doesn’t seem to create for most people a sense of the writer as a writer so much as it does a sense of, “Here’s a story I like by … oh, what was their name again…?” I’m as guilty of this as anybody: one story encountered once, even if I think it’s a work of genius, is unlikely to make me think a whole lot about the writer of that story. Remembering a writer’s name and thinking about a writer as a particular kind of writer, that all comes when I read multiple stories by them, especially in a collection, or when the story gets reprinted in a few anthologies and keeps reminding me that it’s there.
So what was there to do with a manuscript of stories? Publishers are not clamoring for short story collections, especially from basically unknown writers. I tried submitting it to a couple of places that would take unagented submissions. Total failure — like, “Why would you even bother sending us this?” failure. Deluded and stubborn, I didn’t recognize the manuscript’s apparent lack of any redeeming qualities, and I changed my tack: I decided to submit to a contest, because then if I won, I’d have the imprimatur of the contest to help lend some credibility to the book: it wouldn’t just be “book by writer you couldn’t care less about”, but rather “AWARD WINNING! book by writer you couldn’t care less about”. I looked up contests it would be eligible for, and I was attracted to Black Lawrence Press and the Hudson Prize for a few reasons: they seemed to be open to weird stuff that didn’t fit into one style of writing; if you entered early, for your $25 entry fee they’d send you a couple of books; and they sometimes published not only the winner of the contest but also one or two finalists. As gambles go, it seemed like a good one. And it was probably the best gamble I’ve ever made in my life.
ES: I’m really bad with remembering story titles — I’m sure that you silently curse me whenever I refer to one of your stories along the lines of, “the one about Poe.” What does a story title mean to you? Or to phrase it another way, which of your story titles give you the most pleasure and why?
MC: Well, that story’s called “Lacuna”, so it’s not just understandable, but perfectly appropriate that you forget it, given that a “lacuna” is something missing, a gap or a missing part of a manuscript.
ES: Ah, you’re just being kind.
MC: Kind? Not intentionally!
I do spend a lot of time on titles, trying out all sorts of different ones, because the title usually controls the reader’s initial impression. Often, especially with more recent stories, if there’s something that seems puzzling, then the title is there to offer a clue toward where I think the most meaning lies.
Sometimes I’m terrible at titling, though. For instance, “How Far to Englishman’s Bay” was called “Old Man” when I submitted it to Nightmare, and John Joseph Adams, the editor, said he thought the title could be more evocative. “I do, too,” I said, “but I’ve got no ideas. Do you?” He sent me a list, and I knew immediately when I saw it on the list that that was the title for this story. John then raised a key point: “Should there be a question mark?” I decided on no question mark because it makes the title more ambiguous (is it a statement or a question?), and this is a story that needs a strange, ambiguous title.
A lot of my titles try to get you as the reader to think about something in particular: “Where’s the Rest of Me?” is the title of Ronald Reagan’s first autobiography, published before he was President, taken from one of his most famous lines as an actor; “Expositions” offers one of the keys to a rather riddle‑y story (both the idea of exposition in prose and the idea of former or cancelled positions, or even perhaps X‑marks-the-spot); “Lacuna” is a story all about what’s missing. Others are stolen: “In Exile” is a title from Chekhov, “New Practical Physics” is the name of the old textbook I used for the story’s section titles, “Walk in the Light While There Is Light” is from Tolstoy, my post-Blood story “On the Government of the Living” is from Foucault…
ES: You were born and raised in New Hampshire. In what ways do you think that has influenced your writing?
MC: New Hampshire has had a profound influence on me in lots of ways, primarily, though, in that it’s a really weird place that doesn’t feel at all weird to me. I’ve had lots of friends who’ve lived here for a few years and said, “I have to leave. This place is just too weird for me.” When I was a kid, I hated it. I used to tell people I lived “just north of the middle of nowhere”. But every time I’ve gotten away, something has forced me back to the state. I thought I was done with the place forever, I’d moved to New Jersey, I was thinking of moving farther west or maybe even out of the country, and then my father died suddenly and I inherited a house and a gun shop and had to move back to take care of all that. So here I am.
And it is a weird place, I can see that, especially once you get north of Concord, away from the Massachusetts exiles. Up here, we take the state motto seriously: “Live free or die.” The winters can be tough (though not as brutal as in, say, Alaska or the arctic). We’re stoic, not exactly emotionally expressive, fiercely private at times. We like guns and beer and motorcycles. On the bad side, we hate taxes so much that we let our bridges collapse and our roads get full of potholes and our schools go broke; and we’re one of the whitest states in the country, which I think is unfortunate, but then, I’ve been accused in public of hating white people, so, well, I guess I would find our lack of racial diversity to be one of the things I most dislike about a state I generally love.
ES: Paul Di Filippo, in his review of Blood in Locus Online, singled out some of your previously unpublished stories as favorites of his in the collection. It’s always a pleasure to see recent work appreciated. Without giving too much away, what aspects of these new stories give you particular pleasure as their creator?
MC: That anybody likes them at all is a pleasure, because those four stories had garnered their fair share of rejections, and I worried that my sense that they were doing something interesting was delusional. People really hated “Expositions”, I think because the first half sets you up to expect a very different story than you get in the second half. Editors really, really wanted the story to do what I explicitly set out not to let it do. It always got long rejection notes, because it clearly got under editors’ skin. I knew that meant it was doing exactly what I wanted it to do. I see the story as being as much an essay about fiction as it is a work of fiction, but I couldn’t convince anybody of that, or at least convince them that such a thing was worth publishing. Now multiple people have told me it’s among their favorite stories in the book, so go figure. I think that’s an example of what a collection can do for its individual pieces — they all benefit from being in the context of the other stories, I think. Each story teaches you how to read other stories in the book. (Another example: “Mrs. Kafka” doesn’t seem quite so impenetrably strange when placed alongside stories like “Prague” and “Walk in the Light while There Is Light”.)
I have to say I was especially pleased Paul di Filippo liked “Where’s the Rest of Me?”, one of my own favorites in the collection (not that I have favorites…), because his own story “Campbell’s World”, in which science fiction editor John W. Campbell is replaced with mythologist Joseph Campbell, was at the back of my mind when I came up with the bizarre conceit of my own story, melding Ronald Reagan and L. Ron Hubbard.
Meet Me in the Middle of the Air
ES: I’ve probably done some of this and that for as long as I can remember, shuffling between stories, drawing, painting, and cartooning. My mom used to tell bedtime stories to my brother Mark and me and then, when she wasn’t around, I’d tell stories to my brother. I was eight and he was seven. I invented stories about Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, characters that my Mom had also used in her stories. In my version, they lived long ago on the supercontinent Pangaea in an underground house and would come aboveground and have adventures. I remember telling a story that involved them in the breakup of Pangaea. I loved the evocative name of Gondwanaland. I also remember telling a story in which they climbed a giant tree that brought them across many millennia into our modern world. Things didn’t go too well in New York City.
In college I wrote poetry and painted. I sent a weird nonsensical poem off to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In retrospect it had no chance of being published, but I’d grown up reading The Hugo Award Winners, Dangerous Visions, and Orbit anthologies, and didn’t recognize any real limitations to what could be SF. I returned to fiction in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin and got third place in a university-wide fiction contest judged by the poet Alicia Ostriker. I bounded up on stage at the awards ceremony, so excited that I failed to notice that she had extended her hand to shake mine, only finding out after I had left the stage, at which point I returned and shook her hand. The story was a New Yorker-type piece but, for the ending, I cribbed from Samuel Delany and his novel Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. So, even though I wasn’t writing genre, I still used it as a frame of reference.
MC: Did you start submitting fiction for publication then?
ES: I submitted to literary journals without much success, accruing the usual wall-papering of rejection slips. There were a few scribbled words of encouragement but nothing of substance. About that time the zine scene was really breaking wide open. You could pick up Factsheet Five on newsstands and, through them, I discovered The White Buffalo Gazette. WBG had a gonzo anything-goes aesthetic and I started contributing comix to them with some regularity. Each issue had a wonderful sense of both community and diversity, and I really liked that.
I also discovered and subscribed to Janet Fox’s Scavenger’s Newsletter, that giving me a sense of the community and the range of possibilities that existed in genre fiction. I wrote the short-short “Asleep at the Mortuary,” and it got published in Dead Lines. That was my first real fiction sale, and it got a positive mention in Factsheet Five. Publication and a review. What wasn’t to like? In many ways I was returning to my first real love in terms of stories that had a disturbing element in them but, strangely enough, there was more camaraderie with and encouragement from those who liked such stories than I had found elsewhere.
MC: I remember hearing about Scavenger’s Newsletter somewhere when I was young, but I never saw a copy. Same with Factsheet Five. I missed the ‘zine scene because by the time I got to New York City in the mid-’90s and could’ve read them, I was focused on the theatre world and trying to be a playwright. Did you feel a sense of community when reading and publishing in those places? How did things change once the internet became more dominant?
ES: In some ways the internet has democratized the idea of a cult audience. There are still all these niches with shared interests but now you discover them by the Google search terms. And, of course with the internet, it’s much easier to find a response to something you’ve written; the positive thing is that with so many opinions, often differing, that no single opinion carries as much weight. On the other hand, there’s no longer a nexus, one central source that provides a signpost for the different roads you can explore.
MC: What is the appeal of horror, weird, and dark fiction for you?
ES: My collection is dedicated in part to my mom and dad because they introduced me to this form of literature which is both disturbing and fascinating.
MC: That reminds me of the dedication in Paul Bowles’s first collection, The Delicate Prey: “To my mother, who first read me the stories of Poe.”
ES: Poe is quite appropriate and is a major influence. But he is so pervasive that my parents didn’t need to introduce me to his fiction. I still find it amazing that Poe is an established part of children’s literature, and that his face may well be the most recognized of any American author.
I thanked my Mom because she read us The Hobbit as a bedtime story when we were kids. She invented a frog-like croak for Gollum’s voice that was truly disturbing, so much so that I could not read the chapter, “Riddles in the Dark” when I subsequently read the book to myself. I note that the book obviously made such a sharp impression on me that I had to read it, and that the negative space of Gollum still intruded as a strong presence. I know some of the riddles by heart and these have afforded me endless pleasure with various nephews and nieces.
I thanked my Dad because he gave me an old hardcover copy of Arthur Machen’s Tales of Horror and the Supernatural early in high school. I don’t know where he picked it up but he knew full well, I having already devoured H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, that it was something I would like. He was right. Machen’s “The White People” is still, to my mind, one of the finest short stories ever written.
MC: That’s all pretty literary. Were there pop culture influences on your interests, too? Did Bela Lugosi scare you as a kid?
ES: I was never drawn to the popular monsters – Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman – we were constantly told that these were imaginary and that we shouldn’t be scared of them. They’d been tamed by public awareness. I liked the things that weren’t so well known, the sense that there was an undiscovered and potentially dangerous strangeness out there. Narnia and Kafka’s short stories both hold a similar appeal to me in that regard. Other major revelations, although these occurred much later, were the discovery of the works of Thomas Ligotti and Robert Aickman. Ligotti I learned of through my college friend Scot who actually worked with him at Gale Research in Detroit. Aickman I learned of through David Hartwell’s brilliant anthology, The Dark Descent.
MC: Especially for small-press horror writers, Ligotti’s shadow looms large.
ES: Ligotti’s work certainly opened up new possibilities for me. Lovecraft’s monstrosities are so large, so god-like in their powers, that they don’t fit readily into our world and for that reason, although entertaining, they are remote and less believable. Ligotti found a way to intrude the alien into everyday life that was thoroughly unsettling. I was lucky enough to meet him back when he worked at Gale Research. Scot introduced me to him as, “your biggest fan.” Ever striving for scientific accuracy, I immediately contradicted this statement by saying, “Well not your biggest fan.” I realized how stupid that sounded as soon as the words left my mouth and that’s why I remember them to this day. I told him how much I loved his stories. He was polite, somewhat shy. Nothing of great import occurred but it is a memory I hold dear as it connected the stories to a living, breathing person.
MC: What about things like the EC horror comics? Were there weird and horror elements of comics and visual art that fueled your young imagination?
ES: The visuals that inspired me when young came more from illustrations than from comics, although I was an avid collector of Spiderman and The Sub-Mariner when I discovered them in sixth grade. I mentioned Narnia earlier and the illustrator Pauline Baynes did a terrific job defining a smorgasbord of vivid characters to surround the English kids. This is especially apparent when you look at the crowds surrounding the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, or those that come out of hiding in Prince Caspian and are still her supporters: strange hybrids involving animals, trees, birds, mushrooms, and humans. I used modeling clay to recreate 3D versions of these and kept them on a table by my bedside. But, still, it was really the visions conjured by words that most inspired me in fiction.
MC: Everybody asks you how your scientific training affects your fiction, so I’m not going to ask that. Instead, I’ll ask this: What does writing short stories give you that your scientific work does not?
ES: I get to lie.
MC: So you’re telling me that my high score from “Are You Properly Desensitized” is not necessarily scientifically accurate?
ES: Well, scores on that quiz are surprisingly accurate based on ANOVA with a post-hoc Tukey analysis, even though the dataset has been rather limited to date. It’s for that reason that I keep sharp objects out of your reach when you visit, knowing full well you are more likely to harm others than yourself, and also why I ply you with hard liquor, so that your aim veers from true.
And, of course, the quiz was well-calibrated. You represent one extreme, my wife Paulette the other. Paulette was in fact an inspiration for that quiz, the explanation that she was ‘not properly desensitized’ being invoked by us in her responses to the many disturbing trends of our world. Nevertheless, and perhaps because of this, Paulette is my great first reader.
MC: At what point do you share stories with Paulette?
ES: Usually right after I finish the story, when I’m still elated at its completion but blind to its faults. I fully expect her to find it an achievement of unblemished perfection. I’m inevitably wrong. Paulette can pinpoint just where the story slowed or went completely off the rails.
MC: I’m curious about the form of some of the stories that are not conventionally structured, and the organization of the book overall, since it’s broken into three sections (each of their titles from the song “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down”, which also gives the book its title). “The Parasite”, “Hemoglobin”, “Love Signs”, and “The Three Familiars” are all stories with sections; “To Assume the Writer’s Crown” and “Are You Properly Desensitized?” are not just in sections, but also take the form of nonfiction. How do you think through the form and structure of a story?
ES: I’m pulled in various directions when thinking about that question. It reminds me of when Captain Beefheart appeared on David Letterman and was asked why he had titled his latest album Ice Cream for Crow. Beefheart explained that it “has to do with black and white.”
You’re at least partially responsible for the structure of the collection. You’d sent me an initial organization of the stories for Blood in which you’d divided the book up into sections and that suggested doing something similar would help me organize the fistful’s of stories in my collection. Divide the whole into parts and then organize within the parts. A classic problem-solving approach. But then what would the parts be? I’d recently picked up the five-cd set of country gospel, Goodbye, Babylon and fallen in love with Claude Ely’s song Ain’t No Grave. Serendipity.
In terms of the stories, sometimes the internal sections are just titled as one would a chapter, titles serving to orient the reader to some aspect of the story arc: you pointed out the power of titles earlier. The story, “Hemoglobin” represents a more extreme case. That story is based on a Japanese print and the reader is in fact the viewer of the print, each titled section moving the reader’s eye to another section of the image and its implications. Then once the reader/viewer has taken in the print, we move on to what is not shown, what is transpiring beyond the walls of the hut, what must be occurring due to that specific moment the artist chose to represent from a popular but horrific folktale. One of the more obvious influences on the use of nonfictional structures is the work of Jeff VanderMeer, the sheer joy of play evident in his City of Saints and Madmen really opening up this territory. Also, although no one would describe the plot of “To Assume the Writer’s Crown” as Ligottian, it shares literary DNA with Ligotti’s “Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story.”
MC: Given that it started way back in 1876, my memory of how we came to assume the editorship of The Revelator is hazy. I know you wanted to do an online magazine, something we could collaborate on. I resisted because I had just finished as series editor of the Best American Fantasy anthologies and didn’t want to edit anything ever again for the rest of my life ever no no no…
ES: When I was a kid, reading hard-copy SF magazines like Fantasy & SF and Asimov’s, the creation of a magazine was something so far beyond the realm of possibility that it never even entered my mind. Then as an adult, I saw what Des Lewis did with Nemonymous and I loved how it was unlike anything else out there. You were already a pro with your Mumpsimus blog. We had overlapping as well as complementary areas of interest. And we, through some weird flukes of family history, each had tenuous connections to The Revelator, a magazine with a storied past but which had all but disappeared from the public eye. The Revelator as a name even seemed a distorted echo of your blog, The Mumpsimus.
You were definitely leery of embarking on a new editing venture, given the potential level of commitment, but we established some ‘rules’ up front to keep it fun.
MC: One of the best things we did, though perhaps most vexing for our readers and writers, was to deliberately not create a publishing schedule, and to only publish when we were ready. Which so far has meant one issue every year or so. I usually refer to The Revelator as “an occasional online magazine” because people hear “online” and think “instantaneous!” and “hot takes!” and all that — the whole ethos of web publishing is now now now, more more more, and we’re exactly the opposite. We’re like the slow food movement of internet publishing. I’m so tired of publications endlessly rushing to be up-to-the-minute and full of new content. With the rise of the “gig economy”, so many freelancers try to scrape together some sort of living by writing quickly that we’ve reached a point where the internet is full of half-baked stuff written by people of undeniable talent who, if they’d had even a day of more reflection, might have written something more worthwhile and considered. Obviously, we’ve gone in drastically the other direction, but it’s still a direction I prefer. It also keeps our lives manageable.
ES: Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet may advertise itself as ‘an occasional outburst’ but we put them to shame.
MC: We also don’t do unsolicited submissions, since we barely have time to read the stuff we do solicit. That kind of makes us like the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships: nobody will speak publicly about how you get picked, and one day out of the blue you get a call… (With us, you get an email that probably goes to your spam folder, but still.) I’ve been pleased with how many of the people we’ve asked to join our weird little endeavor have said yes. We’re not the only people who like the old, weird America. And non-America.
ES: Which reminds me, we need to start soliciting for the next issue. It goes live on [answer obscured by a burst of static that might be of human origin].