The Making of a Dark Fantasy Anthology
Like all books, an anthology begins with an idea. In the case of Cthulhu Lives! the idea was simply this: the eerie feel of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror stories without the lengthy exposition and racist diatribes. I called for submissions using the tag line “Lovecraftian cosmic horror stories with a modern sensibility.”
The cool thing about asking creative people to respond to a call is that you will often get more than you expected. For CL, I got some stories about things that Lovecraft never imagined because he was from a very different time. For example, 3D printers, spying internet programs, Higgs bosons – and steampunk Europe.
I didn’t have access to a group of known cosmic horror writers. In fact, I didn’t know when I put out the call if we would even get enough good stories to fill the book. At the same time I put out another call for a different book, this one for dark, modern fairy tales, and I got only three stories that I considered suitable, so I had to cancel that book.
After the open call for Cthulhu Lives!, I had thirteen good stories, stories I felt could make the grade either with or without a bit of extra work from the author. After putting them all together, I only had 55,000 words. Tim Dedopulos, the managing editor of Ghostwoods Books, told me I had to get the word count up to at least 70,000 before we could publish.
At that point, I asked writers I knew who I felt were up to the task. I have to say that Gethin Lynes was amazing here. He had been helping me copyedit the stories I already had. In order to help him grok some of the editing decisions I made, I suggested he read some Lovecraft. (He’s Australian, and Lovecraft isn’t as popular there as in the US.) When I needed stories, he wanted to write one. “The Highland Air” was the result, and it’s one of my favorite stories in the book.
I asked Leeman Kessler, the man behind Ask Lovecraft, to write a foreword because a few months earlier, Tim sent a question to Ask Lovecraft, and Leeman answered it on the show. That was how I learned about it. Leeman was happy to oblige, and has been hugely helpful in getting the word out about the book.
How, you may wonder, did I get S. T. Joshi to write an afterword? I still wonder that myself, really. It turns out he’s a lovely man and he was amenable to writing for us so long as he felt the book was good enough. But I have Gábor Csigás, our art director, to thank for gently insisting that I ask S. T. I mostly did it so Gábor would stop bugging me. I had no idea it would actually work.
Cthulhu Lives! was a first in several ways. It was the first straight up anthology I’d ever put together. It was the first book we paid an advance to writers for. It was the first book in which I approached a notable writer that I didn’t know.
One thing I’ve learned about short stories is that different readers will have different favorites. The book was aimed at those who like Lovecraftian weird fiction, but I also hoped that non-Lovecraft fans might like it. Most of the stories have been mentioned by various readers as their favorites. Some stories have been both often mentioned as the best in the book and maligned as terribly written. Explain that to the folks back home!
We’re accepting submissions for another Lovecraftian anthology now. Its working title is Cthulhu Lies Dreaming. You can find the call here. It’s a learning process. I hope the second book will be better than the first.
We hope it will be out later this year. Cthulhu willing.
Thanks for inviting me to write for Black Gate, John. I’d be happy to answer any questions about the book or about what we’re looking for for Cthulhu Lies Dreaming.
Thank you for providing us with a guest post, Salome — especially on such short notice!
Please keep us posted the progress towards CTHULHU LIES DREAMING. I’d love to post the cover here as soon as it’s available.
I think we can make that happen, John. I’ll let you know.