So who are you, Avalon Brantley? We have my own theories about this, which include: a reputable author using a nom-de-guerre, an American Vril soldier-writer, a decadent bureaucrat, a priest of Osiris?
To channel Odysseus, or Pazuzu in The Exorcist, I am No One.
In all seriousness though, identity is a thing of such flux, I think part of my impulse to create is an attempt to grapple with and explore that question. And in a time when many physicists and philosophers will contend that free will (hence identity) is a delusion with which we fool ourselves, questions like that should only stump us more. I think beyond bio-philosophy, in the political arena, such denials of individual identity will bring (and have brought) days of unimaginable anguish and terror. But because I often find myself content to explore the meta-worlds this world contains, by what limited means I have of perceiving them, the inherent “delusions” of being human are not only made more tolerable, even enjoyable, but more true than could be satisfactorily proven to more pessimistic and skeptical minds. I feel a nightmarish future awaits mankind when we can no longer imagine that there is anything but darkness, or worse, nothingness–inside and out–a self-fulfilling and myopic prophecy whereby we become just sentient biochemical silage that once told itself a pretty lie about identity and will, rights and freedom.
Or maybe I really am part of Lord Lytton’s “Coming Race”, who can tell?
How do you feel about your status as a new author of the weird? Particularly in these months and years, when we witness the dawn of Fantastic literature? What else is left to say in a genre which had seemed to say everything it had to say?
I think part of the magic of Fantastic literature is that, unlike other literary subgenres which embrace the prevailing (and transient) sociopolitical concerns and agendas of their time, with Fantastic literature the only limit is our own capacity for conception, for imagination. It seems to me the only form of literature with the Protean potential of evolving with us, though in the face of “fresher” fads I guess it’s often mistaken for and derided as low-brow fare, a perennial fad.
There is much in speculative and science fiction that should continue to stay lively and vibrant as this godlike animal we are changes itself and the world around it and strives to cope with the consequences of such change, or potential change. But my fascinations these days tend to be with older works and days rather than in step with any particular genre or movement, especially of futurism. I’d like to think a wider appreciation of the past would emerge in popular culture, but I don’t, so maybe I’m more in agreement with pessimists and cynics than I would prefer.
Your first full-lenght volume was a lustrous little book called “Aornos”. An unique, irrepetible example of what the contemporary Fantastic literature can offer to the discerned literati. What prompted you to pen such a work?
Thank you. It came from a long love of the fecund and outré culture of ancient Greece in all its lavish weirdness. I had initially thought to write this as a short story, but the form of a play just felt more true to what wanted telling.
You seem so at ease wandering from era to era. How important is history for your life and oeuvre?
Immensely. We are the same creatures we were two hundred or two thousand years ago, with many of the same lusts and drives and failings, and yet how much more have we changed! We are far more skilful at many things, yet pig-ignorant in other ways our ancestors were not; we are softer in many respects, yet more well-rounded; our world is smaller because our scope of it is greater, and yet we find ourselves but specks of dust in a universe we still don’t fully comprehend. The world used to be far larger to us, and the universe far smaller. Being here, now or ever, is such a strange series of paradoxes, such a Great Pageant and Mystery. I find exploring how past cultures have viewed their place in the world and cosmos to be an enriching challenge.
How did you develop this ability to dive into these past worlds?
Actually it’s quite a lot of work, but I love it. I immerse myself in literature and history pertaining to whatever era I am focusing on, sometimes with something of a story line in mind, other times simply to be there, to transport myself, and the genii locorum seem to find their own stories along the way. I try to let go of modern cultural presumptions and prejudices as much as possible, and yet to intuit human motivation and tendencies as best I can so that characters may come alive in their own place and time. It’s risky–there are so many ways to lose track and thread, so many ways to be mistaken, so once I’ve committed to penning something, I’m often terrified of getting some little detail wrong, of being unfaithful to the purpose, so it can be stressful to do, but also deeply gratifying.
How would you describe this important contribution to Weird literature which undoubtly “Descended Suns Resuscitate” is? What tradition, if any, have you followed and payed homage to?
I’m not sure. While I’ve been hopeful that I am contributing something perhaps a bit different to the genre, I think of these works as “explorations” rather than “contributions”. I guess it’s really up to readers–especially those many so much more thoroughly read than I in the realms of the Weird–to judge where or whether my work fits. I just hope that if the collection is well received, that it is only a modest beginning. There is much more of this making I hope to do, and while I do write some things with no intention whatever of publishing, having an audience and a home for such work as this book collects is important, so I certainly hope these stories bring pleasure to those to whom I am grateful for reading them and esteem to those who have done me the honour letting me present them to the world in such a beautiful way.
Which other writers do you admire in your favorite genres and what especially fascinates you in their works?
There are SO many. The sacred books of many religions are a constant preoccupation for me, as are mythology, folklore, alchemy and esoterica. Poetry is an especially indispensable influence on both composition and thought, from ancient poets like Homer, Aneirin and the Gawain poet, to Malory and Milton, to Romantics like Blake, Shelley and Yeats, to Modernists like Pound and Eliot. I should also acknowledge such visionaries as James Thomson, Robert Duncan, Walt Whitman and especially Poe, who was Virgil to my Dante when I first encountered both poetry and fantastic literature, when at the age of six or seven my father began reading him to me.
Dylan Thomas and James Joyce were highly influential in expanding my perception of possibility in language, lending me an ear and eye for hidden gems behind and inside of words. Other favourite authors include Hawthorne, Turgenev, George Eliot, Sir Walter Scott, Borges and Schulz.
In terms of mystical literature, I should mention Jakob Boehme, Thomas Taylor, Crowley, Waite, Kenneth Grant and Jung, and Blake again. Robert Graves, J.G. Frazer, the Grimms, Hoffmann, Lady Gregory and William Morris also helped broaden my horizons by bringing new blood to old tales. I am also enamoured of old Sagas and transcriptions of oral poetry such as the Finnish Kalevala, Ukrainian minstrelsy, and the bardic poetry and ballads of various places and times.
In the realm of weird fiction, M.R. James, Blackwood, Hodgson, Thomas Owen, De La Mare, Dunsany and Chambers are important past masters to me. More recent ones include Wellman, Bradbury, Clark Ashton Smith and Seabury Quinn (his non-De Grandin stories), as well as contemporary magisters such as Ramsey Campbell, Mark Valentine, Reggie Oliver and D.P. Watt.
You contributed to Hieroglyphic acclaimed tribute to Arthur Machen. How important are his books for you?
I feel a profound affinity for Machen. I think he was a very gentle soud, sorely misunderstood in his time. machen falls into an old mystical tradition of letters, more fitting i think in the company of Blake and Yeats than with Lovecraft or Ligotti. “The White people”, “The Great Return”, “The Hill of Dreams” and “The Secret Glory” are indispensably beautiful to me. I also found his early years and largely forgotten “Chronicle of Clemendy” endearing for what it was.
Regarding the rise of the eBooks – do you think these will ever be a threat to the printed book?
Not really. Too many of us are far too tactile and nostalgic for that. Many recording artists are releasing and rereleasing LPs, and I think that’s a similar phenomenon. No, I think what endangers all books, e- or otherwise, is a surfeit of cheap spoon-fed distraction from all other forms of entertainment media, which I suspect contributes to an atrophy of the core muscles of the imagination. I was read to from a very early age, and once I learned to read I would lose myself in books, in the worlds they birthed in my mind. I think more and more people find themselves completely incapable of doing that, and if one can’t do that, the childish complaint that ‘books are boring’ is perfectly understandable, like music for the tone-deaf.
A technical question: how do you write? Computer, typewriter, by hand?
Ultimately, I compose on a laptop. However, I often carry scraps of paper in my pockets with jottings, or use little apps in my phone to record (by audio or text, depending) little moments of sudden inspiration. When I revise I may fall to reading aloud to get the scansion or feel for les mots justes, both for sound and soundness, and in mid-composition I sometimes find myself working with different forms of memory–visual, speech, etc.–which can be a very fragile state during which bits of sentences start floating around in mid-arrangement; if I get interrupted there I tend to completely lose the thread, and this has been known to get me quite cranky and even see me quit for the day.
Where there is Art there is no Devil?
But what would the eARTh look like if all the Shadows disappeared?