Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror is pleased to present a new Interview for “De Boca del Loco” (From the mouth of the madman).
Today, the Goddesses and Gods of the underworld have send their blessings upon us, because they crossed our paths with the Queen of R'lyeh, daughter of the Aeons, and Heiress of the secrets of Innsmouth… Caitlín R. Kiernan.
Irish blood and Goth-American forged, Caitlín is one of the founders of the dark and gothic artistic movements, dedicating her life and work to spreading of science, art and respect among her fans. Winner of many literary awards -including 2 Bram Stokers and several World Fantasy and International Horror Guild Awards-, but covering many other fields like music, comics and (very important) science, Caitlín is an unsparing amazon campaigning for the development of the intellect.
World Fantasy Award.
We can write full bibles about Caitlín, but let’s read her own words and treat ourselves with a dose of sweet poison… from the mouth of the madman!!!
Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror: Caitlín, thanks for being part of our literary circle, since most of our readers start from an early age, can you tell us, how did your encounter with literature begin? Were you interested in the dark realms from an early age?
Caitlín R. Kiernan: I've been attracted to weird fiction, horror, dark fantasy – whatever you want to call it – from a very early age. My mother read me Dracula when I was nine years old, and I never missed a chance to see an old monster movie of television. The old Alfred Hitchcock short-fiction anthologies, I was reading those to myself by in elementary school. So, yes, I've been into the weird and the macabre since I was a child.
CL&H: It seems you first worked in the science world, and you started publishing in your late 20’s, so basically you were already a scholar before becoming a fiction writer. Did Paleontology inspire you to start writing your own stories?
CRK: No, I don't think paleontology in anyway inspired me to write fiction. They were two very different and distinct drives, in some ways very at odds with one another. Science is the search for objective facts. Fiction is the exploration of subjective truths. Weird fiction focuses on the supernatural, while science rejects superstition and, generally, the existence of the supernatural. But later on, when I was writing my third novel, Threshold, I did allow the two interests to dovetail, to mix, and after that paleontology, geology, biology, it all became integral to the sort of fiction I was writing. So, paleontology didn't lead to me being a writer, but my scientific training did greatly influence what I write.
CL&H: I read “Houses Under the Sea” before reading “The Drowning Girl” -one of my favorite stories related to the sea since “The Horror at Martin's Beach” from HPL. - Did writing this story inspire the now ultra-famous novel “T.D.G.” or did you have the whole plot all along?
CRK: No, it only occurred to me to add the connection between Eva Canning and Jacova Angevine's Open Door of Night cult after I was about halfway through writing The Drowning Girl. So, no, the idea wasn't there all along. I'm not good with plotting. I rarely ever plan anything out that far ahead.
CL&H: Talking about this both sensational tales, what is your fixation with “drowning girls”? Are you scared of this particular kind of death or is it more of a metaphorical theme recurrent in your literature... maybe you had an experience like that?
CRK: I can't say for sure where it started, but it's there. Maybe with Ophelia in Hamlet and mermaids? Maybe it's just an extension of my fascination with deep water, whether it's fresh or salt. And I tried to drown myself in 1993, and that's one thing that inspired The Drowning Girl. It's always hard, and it's sometimes impossible, for me to look back and say exactly what inspired my fascination or obsession with something.
CL&H: Many of your characters are genderless, you can make movies with your stories and the protagonists can be either a woman or a man, have you struggled with any sort of difficulty presenting your stories or your own gender identity in the literary world? I think most people in the writing business tend to be more open to reality than the gross of the population… don’t you?
CRK: I don't know that I would say that many of my characters are genderless. I think almost all my characters are possessed of a gender identity. Off the top of my head, I can't think of an instance when I've written a genderless character. Many of characters have a fluidity about their gender, and about their sex, but that's not the same thing. And many of my characters subvert traditional Western gender roles, but that's also not the same thing. As for whether or not my own gender dysphoria and gender identity has posed a difficulty or a struggle in relation to my writing, that's not an easy question to answer. But yes, there are a lot of readers who are uncomfortable reading about lesbians and transgender people and gay men and, for that matter, about non-human beings who may have entirely alien ways of expressing gender. And a few times I've had doors closed in my face, so to speak, by the industry, because I'm trans. It happens, and no amount of success makes it go away.
CL&H: You grew up in the rise of one of the most important sub-cultural movements of our times, the Gothic and Dark, and your stories -along with Gaiman's, Rice's, Brite's and others- helped reshape the way of Millennial literature. How do you feel about having such an influence in modern artists and what is your opinion of the new creative trends that have resulted from this influence you guys gave the world? Some ParaRom writers cite you as an influence.
CRK: I don't know. It's not something I spend much time thinking about. But this is just how art proceeds, we are influenced by and build upon that which came before.
CL&H: Your stories albeit nourished in the supernatural world, have a deep mental and social background that reminds me the Latin American “Magical Realism” movement. Do you have any influences from this genre? Have you read some Hispanic literature that might have had an impact in your prose?
CRK: Yes, definitely. I'm a great admirer of the that school of literature, which I discovered in college, and it had a huge influence on what I would go on to write and how I would approach the material I would write about. Márquez, Borges, Isabel Allende – these are writers who had a great impact on my approach to the fantastic.
CL&H: Obviously most of our followers are Lovecraft fans, and there is a constant array of his Mythos throughout your stories. How important is Lovecraft for your works and how important is his legacy in your own life?
CRK: Well, given how often I've turned to Lovecraft's work for inspiration and given how many times I've written stories set in his worlds or incorporating characters from his mythos, it's pretty obvious, I assume, that Lovecraft is very important to my own work. Centipede Press is about to release a huge collection of my "mythos" fiction, and when we were compiling the book, when I realized how often I'd gone to the well of Lovecraft and built directly on his work it was a little disconcerting. For a while, I think, I used it as a crutch. It's easier to write another story about Innsmouth or Cthulhu than come up with something of my own. So, I made myself avoid writing mythos fiction for over a year, to prove to myself it was a crutch I didn't need. I think the most important thing my fiction shares with Lovecraft's is the concept that the universe is, ultimately, indifferent to the fate of mankind, on an individual and species level. The universe is cold and uncaring. No one's coming to deliver us, to make everything all better. For me, that is the heart of Lovecraft.
Swan Point cemetery, by Lovecraft's headstone.
CL&H: Speaking of influence, how does Caitlín R. Kiernan feel about allowing fans to use her characters or ideas, as inspiration? We have writers like Rice who wouldn't allow anyone to even mention the names of her vampires for “fan art”. However, Lovecraft was an encourager of the use of his mythos. Do you see yourself as a fountain of ideas for others to use? Maybe in a future there will be “The Kiernan Mythos”.
CRK: That's not an easy question. Right now, no, I don't allow people to write stories using my characters. There are questions of copyright and the problem of my needing to protect intellectual property rights in order to make a living. That said, were someone to approach me and ask, I might say yes. It would be a case by case thing. And were Lovecraft's works still under copyright, if it had not been allowed to lapse, I would not be using his material. As for whether I am a "fountain of ideas," well, I think all writers are, and especially any writer who has written as much as I have. Our ideas arise in large part from what we have read. It's not about originality. Being a good writer is largely about artful appropriation, taking what others have taught you and making it your own. A "Kiernan Mythos"? I don't know. Ask me again in twenty years.
CL&H: Your characters are usually people caught in a maelstrom of drugs, violence, mental illness and death. Your girls fuck, swear, kill themselves and live up to what people would consider a shocking lifestyle, almost like the girls Type-O Negative describe in their songs. Yet some of your books (at least the Mexican versions) usually add “Semi biographical” labels on their covers… How much of this have you had to deal with, and has it made you a stronger person/artist?
CRK: That's my background, and I've never attempted to pretty it up. In my twenties spent years working as a drag queen, and I spent years as part of the punk and goth scene. I've known a lot of abused and homeless kids, a lot of junkies, a lot of drunks. I had a lover commit suicide. I was raped in the dressing room of a drag club. I've attempted suicide more than once. I'm an addict. So, yes, it's autobiography. I write this stuff, I write these characters because this is who I am and this is the world that I know firsthand, for better or for worse. I'm never doing it to shock or titillate or glamorize. Rather the opposite, I hope. I'd hope that my writing works to de-romanticize things like drug use and mental illness. I want people to see what it's really like, down here where they've been lucky enough never to live. I also want people who've been through these things to feel less alone. I'm also not writing about these subjects to condemn anyone.
CL&H: Paleontology… Geeky as Ross from Friends or Transcendental as Jack Horner… Which type are you? And how has this career affected your perception of the vastness of time both in your person and in your literature?
CRK: I'd have to say Jack Horner. I think my fascination with ancient life and evolution and the earth history, all these things instilled in me a powerful appreciation with deep time. That is, the time that happened before the beginning of human history. As a person, it has had a deeply humbly effect on me. It helps me keep perspective and understand my place in the universe. As a writer, it has opened immense vistas, and in addressing the weird and the fantastic and the macabre, I'm often reaching back into that vastness of time. It makes man seem puny, even when measured by our greatest achievements. Acknowledging this obviously terrifies a lot of people.
CL&H: Speaking of Paleontology, why do you think the scientific community hasn’t been able to eradicate people like Ken Ham? Why if THERE IS evidence, we are still living in the dark ages?
CRK: Because of the way I closed my answer to the question before this one. People are terrified by the thought that they're not special, that they're not the favored children of a loving god, that they're only one in billions of species on one planet amid trillions of planets, spinning through an indifferent cosmos. If we accept Darwin, if we accept the antiquity of the universe, we stand to lose everything that – to a lot of people – it means to be human. Its' just too much, and it creates, I think, a sort of existential crisis, a sort of existential shock to the human mind. It's easier, psychologically, to deny what science has revealed than to face facts.
CL&H: I don’t want to sound gloomy, but for me some of the most enigmatic forms of literature come from gravestones; consider the power in “I AM PROVIDENCE” from the Master, or the one that made me start reading Bukowski “DON’T TRY”. And my personal favorite from Robert Frost; “I HAD A LOVER’S QUARREL WITH THE WORLD” (just writing that one made me shiver). What would you like to be engraved in your last resting place? If you are not the kind of person who would rather be cremated.
CRK: I go back and forth on the subject of cremation. Sometimes I say that's what I want, and then I'll swing the other way. What would I want on my headstone? How about I'M DONE. NOW, TURN THE PAGE?
CL&H: Do you think the times we are living are as scary as the ultimate Dystopian novel? And if so… do you wish you could have come up with such a twisted idea as is our current world situation for your Sci/Fi series?
CRK: Well, they're more frightening than any world I believed I would ever live to see, but, no, obviously we have not yet reached some ultimate dystopia. There's still time to change course. Maybe we can't stop climate change, but we can control how bad is gets. We can avoid the resurgence of fascism in America and in Europe, but we can stop its spread. We can't unelect Donald Trump, but we can make sure this never happens again. We have choices, I hope, about how bad things are going to get, and I fervently pray that we can look at the past and see its lessons, and that we care about the world our children will inherit enough to avoid the genuinely devastated worlds of dystopian fiction.
CL&H: Tell us something about Caitlín R. Kiernan that nobody knows.
CRK: In the summer of 1985, I skinned and flensed an adult make lion. It died of old age at the Birmingham Zoo, and the zoo gave it to the museum where I worked, the Red Mountain Museum. We needed it as a reference skeleton for our comparative collection. We spent two days in the hot sun, me and two other paleontologists, up to our elbows in gore and flies, getting the meat off the bones. So, yeah, most people do not know I've skinned a lion.
CL&H: Any final words for the CL&H Monterrey you'd like to add?
CRK: No, I think we've pretty well covered everything. Thank you for the interview!
We appreciate the time Miss Caitlín gave to all of her fans in the Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror. Don't forget to attend to this month's edition where we will be discussing her novel “The Drowning Girl: A Memoir”, which will become a movie soon and you can see advances here: http://www.caitlinrkiernan.com
See you in the next edition of… De Boca del Loco!!!
- El Dumpstero
"Two Worlds and In Between: The Best of Caitlin R. Kiernan" Vol. 1 hard cover.