Thursday, May 10, 2012

An Interview with the Folks Behind The Double Shadow - the Clark Ashton Smith Podcast

Clark Ashton Smith was a "weird fiction" writer and a contemporary of HP Lovecraft. His works have largely been overshadowed by HP Lovecraft's popular resurgence over the years, and The Double Shadow Podcast is a brand new podcast that is, in part, trying to put the spotlight on an underappreciated writer. The three minds behind the podcast agreed to give us a quick interview and some information on the podcast, podcasting, Clark Ashton Smith, "weird fiction" in general, and more. That interview is beyond the jump:

Jeff: So, first and foremost, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Tim: I’m Tim Mucci. I mainly work in publishing in New York, but I also do some writing here and there. Comics, columns, fiction, whatever. I’m Googleable. Google me. My role within the Double Shadow hierarchy is, I guess, sound editor? I make sure everything is recorded and edited and audible.

Ruth: I’m Ruth/CthulhuChick, I don’t like using my last name online for this stuff because I’m trying to build a web profile in my career pursuits and don’t want them tangled. Speaking of that, I’m in grad school getting my Master’s in Library Science. Combined with my day job, that’s a lot, but I’m rather passionate about information--which is one of the reasons I’m excited about the podcast. More information about a really interesting writer! I handle the podcast’s website & social media, as well as the reading/research that we all do. I’m hoping to move us to Wordpress after the semester ends.

Phil: I’m Phil Gelatt. I wrote some comics for Oni Press (Petrograd and Labor Days) and currently work in film doing screenwriting and what have you. I directed a movie last year called The Bleeding House (see it now on Netflix!) and recently wrote a movie about a trip to Jupiter’s moon Europa that stars that guy from District 9. In theory, it’ll be out later this year. My role in the Double Shadow dynamic is “the guy who accidentally swears during the episodes.”

Jeff: Phil, excuse my overall star-struckness, haha. Do you find podcasting a significant departure in mindsets for you? Obvious question - is Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) a bit of an inspiration for your other endeavors in any way? It would be lax of me to not point out the Mars fiction CAS did at this point while thinking of Europa...

Phil: It’s a departure, definitely, but I completely love it. I’m at my most comfortable when I’m chatting about fiction/films/comic books that I love, so in a sense it’s just recording something that I wish I got to do every day. I haven’t yet written anything that is directly CAS inspired. The Europa thing bears a philosophical relationship to Lovecraft, which is something I did very self-consciously, though if (hopefully when) you see the movie it won’t feel Lovecraftian in the sense that word is usually used, I guess. I’m dying to sneak more CAS into my writing, it’s tricky though because his sensibility runs very much against the grain of modern filmmaking. More so than Lovecraft and definitely more so than [Robert E.] Howard’s (REH) Conan.

Jeff: How do you know each other? Is it mostly via online interactions?

Ruth: I met Tim on Twitter through shared Lovecraftian interests. When he started GMing Delta Green, he asked me if I was interested in playing. I met Phil via that Delta Green game and now we all play DnD together with a few other people. I’ve only interacted with the guys online via webcam because they’re too far away for me to see, but I’m hoping to meet Phil on a field trip to Providence this summer and perhaps we can coax Tim up there too.

Tim: I know Phil through a mutual artist friend that we’ve both done comics work with. I know Ruth through twitter. That’s true. I’ve never been in the same room as Ruth. For all I know her lower body terminates in serpentine coils.

Ruth: It...totally doesn’t. They’re tentacles.

Phil: I actually know Tim because I saw his adorable face written in the stars when I was but a wee child staring up at the night sky over Wisconsin. Years later when I saw this star-man in the flesh, I knew we were destined to be together... on a podcast.

Jeff: While I know you answer this a bit in the first podcast, why Clark Ashton Smith, and why a podcast about him?

Tim: I personally find it fascinating that a writer of such obvious talent has been sidelined for so long. I also partially understand it because his stories are much more categorically weird. Lovecraft’s stories, and even Howard’s stories, take place in a known universe where we more or less understand the rules, even as they’re being broken. Smith is much more unapologetically vague. Things happen because they happen, and with a lesser writer this might come off as amateurish but Smith makes it work. It almost seems as if Smith is satirizing the Weird Tale at times, playing with our expectations and winking at us while he does it. I do think it’s important to the history of Weird Fiction to understand what CAS was doing and why. Hopefully we can help with that.

Ruth: Because I got an email saying “Hey, Ruth, we’re doing a podcast about CAS! Do you like him? Do you want to be part of it?” :) Why was my response “Hell yeah!”? Because CAS is a different kind of weird fic from what H. P. Lovecraft (HPL) wrote. I’d read a bit before but wasn’t really an expert on it. But it was different enough and its own thing, not a Lovecraftian pastiche, that I thought I’d enjoy getting to know him better.

Phil: Tim has kind of hit on the why question in the same way I think about it. HPL is very much a cultural, influential force; REH has been for awhile. “Why not CAS?” Is something I’ve been wondering for a long time. I think we all have an array of theories on it and hopefully we’ll get into all that on podcast.

Jeff: I hope I’m not being too forward in assuming that the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast is a bit of an inspiration for this. Are there other podcasts you’re modeling this project after a bit, or any other podcasts you admire for their format or subject matter that are a guide or an inspiration?

Tim: The HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast is absolutely the model. Chad and Chris have created something so unique and inspirational with the HP Podcraft, and it’s going to be interesting to see how we end up distinguishing ourselves. I listen to hours and hours of podcasts each week and I’d like to think that I pick up the best from each one and use that to inform how Double Shadow is created, edited and mixed. Some of my favorites are: Radiolab, This American Life, 99% Invisible, Citizen Radio, Radio Misterioso and KCRW’s UnFictional.

Ruth: I think Tim covers this one perfectly.

Phil: Yeah, HPPodcraft are [the] best. I love them, love the vibe of their episodes, they walk the line between scholarly and fanboy-ish absolutely perfectly.

Jeff: I was kind of amused when listening to the first episode because I realized that I had actually been exposed to CAS before Lovecraft, being a fan of CAS’s Hyperborean short stories before any original Cthulhu mythos stuff. Was CAS or Lovecraft the introduction to so-called Weird Fiction, or was it something else that got you interested?

Tim: For me it was Lovecraft all the way. I’ve called myself a Cthuligan and a Lovecraft purist for so long that it feels odd now attaching myself to another Weird Man of the same era. As we’re reading for the show, though, I’m really noticing the interplay between the two men, and it’s pretty amazing.

Ruth: I mentioned this a little on the podcast, but I came to weird fic via Neil Gaiman’s Lovecraftian stuff. Then Lovecraft. Then I wanted to see what other people had done with it, since I liked Lovecraft so much. I’m let down about as often as I’m excited by weird fic writing, although (through Tim) I discovered the Drabblecast podcast and am really enjoying the weird (they call it “strange”) fic on there. Fortunately, CAS was one who didn’t let me down. He was his own, wonderful, twisted thing.

Phil: Yeah, my way in was definitely Lovecraft Avenue. I think I first learned of CAS was back in college when I was in a class on modern poetry and decided to write a final paper on the poetry of Weird Tales. So I started reading Lovecraft’s poetry (pretty bad), Howard’s poetry (more or less all about blood and wars) and then finally Smith’s poetry (genuinely good). So the paper focused on Lovecraft and CAS and sort of put them in relation to the poetry we all know from the time period (Eliot, Pound.... the high Modernists basically). So yeah... now we all know that I’m kinda into poetry. Use that knowledge as you see fit.

Jeff: Do you find that “weird fic” has a very variable quality rate, or is it more that HPL and CAS in particular raise the bar so high for you that the entire curve is skewed? I can relate to being disappointed after reading Peter Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained where I pretty much haven’t been able to read traditional sci-fi in years - especially when so much genre fiction is of the self-published and self-edited variety. Obviously discovering/rediscovering CAS doesn’t quite relate, but in terms of finding good stuff to read...

Ruth: Yes, in my opinion it has a widely variable quality rate, whether it’s simple bad writing or people trying to copy others’ styles. I don’t know if HPL/CAS (and REH while we’re on it) raise the bar so much as people sometimes try to be too much like them instead of embracing their own way of writing weird.

Phil: What’s that quote? “90% of anything is crap”? Something like that? Maybe the percentage isn’t quite that high? But I do feel like that idea applies pretty broadly to most genres, stories, what have you. The thing about HPL and CAS is that they were, in a sense, the originals. They were the first generation to take Poe and Dunsany and Bierce and etc. and mold it into what we now know as weird fiction. They didn’t have to raise the bar because they were the ones that figured out there was a bar there at all. Or another way of saying it is.... They ARE the bar. Dun dun DUN.

Jeff: Obviously, the idea of “weird fiction” in general has become somewhat wide with Lovecraft’s apparent resurgence in popularity and geek culture. Do you have any favorite stuff that fits that genre that’s caught your eye recently?

Tim: I love everything that Laird Barron has done so far. “The Imago Sequence” is by far my favorite contemporary weird tale.

Phil: If recently is defined as like, the last 10 years? Then I’d go with Kelly Link, Steph Swainston, M. John Harrison (though of course he’s been around for decades but I only read him in the last 10 years), China Mieville (who I love dearly dearly but he’s kinda lost me on his most recent stuff). I’m definitely into Laird Barron, into Jeff VanDerMeer. Oh Thomas Ligotti! He’s also been around for awhile but I only just got into. I’m about to give Michael Cisco a try, but can’t recommend as I haven’t yet cracked it open.

Ruth: I really like the stuff I’ve been hearing on the Drabblecast. Not all of it is good, but some just knocks out out of the park.

Jeff: You’ve mentioned Drabblecast a couple times - any starting points to recommend?

Ruth: Just start and work your way back, really. It’s a weekly strange short story + a drabble (100 word story), so there’s no order to follow. Not all of it may conform precisely to “weird,” but I think people who like weird fic will enjoy the other kinds on there too.

Jeff: What else are you guys working on/working with? Obviously Ruth has her Cthulhu Chick thing going on (and I recommend your eBook constantly), but anything else that might be of interest to FP readers/podcast listeners?

Tim: I write a column about role-playing called The Tabletop Wizard for the geek culture site I occasionally have a piece published in Slice Magazine, a local literary mag, and I’m always working on something to various degrees of completion. The best way to keep up with me is through my twitter, it’s the only thing I update with any frequency: @timx13

Ruth: I’ve mostly been working on looking into supplemental stuff for the podcast--reading letters, etc. This is my current other-than-school project. We’re hoping to open a podcast forum at some point where people can talk about the stories. We also have something exciting that we may do in a bit as a group...but I can’t really talk about that yet.

Phil: I’m just grinding my brain into screenwriting right now. Well screenwriting, and podcast. The podCASt... see what I did there? This is the type of highbrow, guffaw worthy humor you can expect on the each episode. Miss it at your peril.

Jeff: You guys are awesome, thanks again. Any final words you’d want to add?

Ruth: Just that I’m excited by the stories we have ahead of us. I think people will really enjoy some of them and enjoy the...badness...of the others.

Phil: Ditto Ruth’s! Very excited to be doing this, very excited to finally be working my way through CAS’s stuff in a more thorough way. And looking forward to people coming along on the journey with us.

Tim: Baleful. Sere. Necromancer. Aspergillum. Aspergillus.

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